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Sharing stories of breast cancer to help alert others
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In a striking display of pink, Manteca Bulletin’s women staffers united in supporting the American Cancer Society through its Breast Cancer Awareness Month – many telling their stories of how the disease has affected them, their families and friends. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Life-threatening experiences with cancer were the entire buzz this week – women sharing experiences with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – telling of their survival from an often devastating disease.

Breast cancer – the Big C – changes lives, leaves indelible memories, and brings women together in their resolve to find support for research with a definite resolve to find a cure.

The women staffers at the Manteca Bulletin were obviously spirited and all dressed in pink and united to bring attention to the need for medical funding and in an effort to soothe their personal fears through an unwritten sisterhood. It was part of their effort to publicly Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Several of the women were open with their own personal experiences.  They were free with their experiences hoping that could give hope to others who might face the disease in the future.

One woman in the advertising department told of having an elective breast reduction surgery that found cancer in the tissue after it was removed from her body and sent to the lab as a medical precaution.  A mammogram only a week prior failed to show any presence of a cyst or tumor.

“I was driving when the doctor called me on my cell phone and he told me to pull over.   When you hear those words of having cancer you are in disbelief and shock all at the same time.  But he told me over and over again how lucky I was to have had the reduction – and it was a very small tumor, the size of a pea, “she said.

When she received that cell phone call she was driving in Modesto with her kids in the car.

The doctor was certain they had probably gotten it all during the reduction operation, because of the amount of tissue they removed as well as the fact she had a breast MRI that was clean.

“I opted out of chemotherapy and radiation and not to have any further treatment,” she said. That was five years ago today and she now is a survivor.

Was waiting for lump to go away
Yet another staffer in bookkeeping learned of her cancer in February of 2006, just three and a half years ago.  She said she had only found lump in her breasts but her doctor performed a needle biopsy on two – one turned out to be only a cyst.  

She said she had an appointment with her doctor for something entirely different and mentioned that she had found a lump in her breast and wanted to have it checked while she was in the office – she had just been waiting for it to go away.

“It’s probably nothing but can you just check it for me as long as I’m here,” she remembers asking.    “She (the doctor) felt it and knew something wasn’t right and made an appointment for a mammogram and a sonogram to confirm it.”

She was then sent to a surgeon for a needle biopsy with a call back the next day with notice that it was a carcinoma.  “That’s a bad word – the C word,” she added.

After getting the bad news she went in to the doctor where she was told what it was all about and what she could expect, and what her treatment choices would be in the coming weeks – making subsequent appointments with the oncologist and the plastic surgeon.

She knew what she was going to do without a doubt – a double mastectomy.  “While I knew that I still wanted to talk to them, I gathered all the information and made my final decision and scheduled a date for surgery.”

The surgery took place March 16, 2006 after which she went through her chemo treatments every three weeks for four treatments which dovetailed into her daughter’s college graduation.  She had to wear a wig for the first time to that event, she recalls.

After chemo was over she had reconstructive surgery and two weeks later she started in her position at the Manteca Bulletin on October 9.   

“Health-wise I feel wonderful,” she beamed.  “I learned a lot through the experience.”

She added that she started walking every single morning – seven days a week.  “I’d just get up and walk – that’s all I could do – I couldn’t drive.”  It was walking and eating the right foods in concert that she felt helped her through the experience.  

“I had a few funny stories that happened along the way – not funny then, but funny now,” she said being a person who has trouble sitting still.

She remembers going to a class hosted by the American Cancer Society demonstrating makeup tips for the changing skin.  Scheduled to take the class before her chemo treatments, her scheduling had prevented that.  All the other women in the room had lost their hair and were wearing wigs except for her.

“I felt really, really bad because they didn’t have hair and I did,” she said.  “And then thinking – oh, my gosh – is that what I’m going to look like?’

She said she gave those women a lot of credit for taking their wigs off and acting like they were proud.

Within months of her surgery – before and after – she had two cousins who were being treated for breast cancer, she added.

Thought pain was a pulled muscle
Yet another staff member said she has never experienced the threat of breast cancer, but both her mother and grandmother contracted the disease – her grandmother in the late ‘20s and her mother in 1979.

The grandmother had a double mastectomy long before chemotherapy and lived beyond 100.  In fact she wrote for a newspaper and didn’t give up her writing until she reached the century mark only because of failing eyesight.

She said she was only 12 when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and went into surgery for a single mastectomy – dying in 2005 from a broken hip, some 30 years later.  The family had no other breast cancer in its ranks except for one cousin today who is now suffering from bone cancer.

Another woman working in the composing department ignored pain for a year thinking it was only a pulled muscle from lifting a box at work.  It turned out to be stage 4 lung cancer after splintering a rib bone near the shoulder.

After experiencing excruciating pain in the middle of the night she remembers going to emergency at San Joaquin General Hospital in French Camp – being told she would have to wait a month before she could see someone.

She said she was demanding that something had to be done “now,” and she was seen the next morning.  Blood work and a scan showed lung cancer and she was given eight months to live.

Something she will never forget is the young female intern telling her she had cancer and crying with the experience of telling her it was terminal.  Her response, “Girl, if you’re going to be a doctor you have to toughen up!”

Chemo and radiation were not options for her if she was going to die in eight months, she said.  She wasn’t going to go through those experiences.  But her family wouldn’t let up in their pleas for her to go on with the medical options that eventually shrunk the tumor and put her in remission.

That was 13 years ago shortly after the birth of a granddaughter – a new grandbaby – whom she wanted to see grow up.   “And I didn’t quit smoking right away, but my daughter and I finally went and got hypnotized to get away from the habit,” she said.

The hypnosis included something of a diet wish to keep them from getting fat when they stopped smoking.  “When they checked on me in their follow up, I wasn’t smoking but I was getting fat,” she chuckled.