If She Had it to Do Over Again
One Woman’s Journey
( A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Story)
by Priscilla Miller
She sits at a table and dabs at the corner of her eye with a tissue. “I’m not really crying” she says. “ It’s just that my eyes water, since I’ve lost my eye lashes. Jeannie is a breast cancer patient who is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatment for metastasized breast cancer of the liver.
When Jeannie Iser of Mancelona first discovered the tiny lump in her breast in 2004, she was stricken with the fear of cancer. She didn’t have medical insurance, so she waited and hoped that it would go away. Jeannie who was once energetic, started feeling exhausted all the time and admits “somehow I knew things weren’t right.”
At her daughter’s insistence she finally called to make an appointment to see a doctor, and was told to bring proof of medical insurance with her. By this time she had waited six months and the lump had reached the size of a golf ball! “ I didn’t know what to do, I felt so hopeless” she says. “without insurance I couldn’t get a mammogram necessary to diagnose the disease.”
It was then that Jeannie’s sister Bonnie, in desperation started making some phone calls.” One of those calls was made to Dee Lynch, co founder of the newly formed Alden High Tea for Breast Cancer. The first high tea had just been held a few months prior to Bonnie’s call, and not many people knew much about the organization. Word of mouth had reached Bonnie, “that the high tea had free mammograms available for uninsured individuals living in Antrim County.”
After making sure it was o.k. with Jeannie to contact her, Dee called and immediately arranged for Jeannie to have a mammogram. The mammogram confirmed the fact that there was a mass in her breast and Jeannie needed further medical treatment.
With the High Tea for Breast Cancer still in it’s infancy, Dee contacted the Health Department of Northwest Michigan (formerly Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency) and they became involved in arranging for Jeannie’s followup medical care. She underwent several biopsies and then a partial mastectomy, followed by months of chemotherapy treatments.
When a blood test revealed that the cancer had spread to her liver, Jeannie was shocked. No one had ever told her that when breast cancer is not treated early enough, it can spread to other parts of the body.
A visit to her family physician proved to be particularly upsetting. She was still emotionally reeling from the news that the cancer had spread, when this doctor basically told her she should get her life in order and asked if she had life insurance?
It’s been almost three years now, but with the love and support of her family she continues to fight her battle. The chemo appears to be doing it’s job, the lesions in her liver have shrunk in size. Jeannie remains optimistic and says, “ the whole process is a scary thing but If, I had gotten a mammogram when I first noticed the lump I probably wouldn’t have cancer in my liver today and I’d have been finished with chemo months ago.
Her message to anyone who discovers a breast abnormality is “don’t make excuses. Don’t say I don’t have time, take time! Call and make an appointment for a mammogram today. If I had to do it all over again, I would not have let fear keep me from being diagnosed sooner.”
As a result of Dee Lynch’s initial phone call to the health department regarding Jeannie’s followup medical treatment, the Antrim County High Tea for Breast Cancer Prevention joined in partnering with the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, and Munson Hospital Breast Care Services in providing mammogram screenings for all uninsured Antrim County residents.
To make an appointment for a free mammogram call the Health Department of Northwest Michigan at 1-800-432-4121 and for other health care information call Teresa Sington at 231-533-8670
Living on the Sunny Side of Cancer
This morning I had radiation for the 31st time to annihilate my breast cancer. I’ve got, or as I like to say, I just had ductal carcinoma in situ. People who know a lot about breast cancer say that DCIS is “the good kind to get!” (“Good” being relative when it’s in front of cancer, but my stage 0, non-invasive DCIS is curable.) Sure, there’s way worse, but it’s still the C word.
Between 2005 and 2007, I wrote a column for MORE called Quinlan&Answers, all about reinventing your career. But now I’ve made it my job to reinvent my breast cancer, to replace fear with hope. I hope that valiant women with more aggressive and dire conditions don’t write me off as Pollyanna’ish, or worse, insensitive; instead, maybe I can help others who face what I’m facing, or confronting any dark period where you’re ready for a little self-administered emotional rehab.
I’ve learned it’s possible to get through something tough by deciding to turn it on its head. I’m on a journey of mind over matter, in this case, forcing my sunny side to tackle the tiny, dark cloud that appeared on a regular mammogram, just four months ago.
That April, I headed to my annual test with typical “I hate being squeezed” resolve. But I soon learned that the jaws of the machine were the least of my problems when the doctor called me back for a closer picture. My radiologist wanted a biopsy to confirm his suspicions about a small cluster of calcifications. I was right to be scared.
My breast surgeon told me to expect one of three results: A) benign, b) cancer requiring surgery and radiation or C) more tests. Rather than mope around waiting for door number one, I spent the afternoon shopping with my friend Nancy. With each hour, I became more willing to buy anything to distract myself from the gnawing worry that this time, my luck might have run out.
Balancing my cell and a notepad on my shopping bag, I scratched out my doctor’s verdict, scribbling phonetically since my brain went blank while Nancy squeezed my arm as she heard me stutter, “Ductal what?” I had barely heard of DCIS, which is surprising, since thanks to earlier detection and more regular mammograms, 22% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, get it.
Nancy and I ducked into a Greek café and I downed a Pinot Grigio between sobs. Lumpectomy? A month of radiation? This can’t be.
A “Woman’s Issue” from a Man’s Prospective
Ed Huller is a member of the Board of Directors, for the Antrim County High Tea for Breast Cancer Prevention. He offers the following overview of both the organization and his prospective, on what is primarily considered a woman’s issue, breast cancer prevention.
What is ACHT?
The Antrim County High Tea for Breast Cancer Prevention is a local community effort with the goal of ensuring that county residents become educated about breast cancer prevention and have access to medical screenings and mammograms. It was formed in 2004 and has raised over $48,000 to date which includes more than $20,000 raised this year.
Why are you involved?
Unfortunately most of us have some personal story or connection to this disease. Two local women, Dee Lynch and Jane Van Etten, saw a need and in 2004 decided they wanted to do something to make a difference. As the community response began to grow the founders realized they needed a more formal structure to manage the programs and finances. I joined when the initial board of directors was put in place and we received our 501c3 charitable trust status.
What should men know about breast cancer?
Men should be aware that while breast cancer is predominately a female disease, it can also attack men, who represent about 1% of the incidents. So be aware of how to detect it. It’s also vitally important for men to be supportive of the women in their lives and encourage them to get annual screenings. Women, who are often the primary caregivers to their family and friends often overlook their own needs. Those trying to manage tight family budgets are quick to forego their own health care needs in lieu of others. So guys, we need to step up and remind the women in our lives how important it is that they take care of themselves as well. Make sure they are aware of the importance of early detection and if insurance coverage is the problem, that’s where we can help.
What kind of help is available?
Well, first there are several state and federal programs which will provide testing and support for women and the best place to find out about them is by calling the Health Department of Northwest Michigan which has offices in Bellaire and Mancelona. We have partnered with them to help make sure we exhaust all available government funding before utilizing the monies we’ve raised. We have a lot of folks in the county with either no insurance or inadequate coverage.
We have also established a fund with Munson Medical Center to cover clients who, because of age, income or other reasons may not be eligible for coverage in one of these government programs.
In addition, we created a fund administered by the Health Department to cover certain related medical expenses in addition to the actual tests.
We provide help in terms of education and awareness throughout the county. We distribute brochures and literature explaining what people should know about breast cancer and how to detect it. We have a group of people who go out to our schools, businesses, churches and community groups to speak and educate. There are also individuals who can help address individual concerns and questions and help get them linked up to the professional resources they need.
How can others help support these efforts?
We really have had tremendous support from local businesses, organizations and individuals. This is an all volunteer effort so we always need people who can give us their time and skills in support of the cause. The fact that all of our funds are used to directly support people living in Antrim County distinguishes us from many other efforts. There are no national offices or programs to support and many of our donors have indicated that this focus helped persuade them to support this effort from amongst the many requests they get each year.
We have a few examples of local businesses working with us to share a portion of their proceeds from certain events or sales and we want to find more.
We hope area businesses will invite us in to talk to their employees and families. We need community groups to help create opportunities for us to get the message out to as many as possible. Without a hospital or other medical infrastructure in place this county has historically failed to fully utilize the resources available to us. We don’t want this to happen ever again – that’s why education and awareness will be a big part of our focus in the future.
Health Department of Northwest Michigan: phone 1-800-432-4121
Antrim County High Tea for Breast Cancer Prevention:
A Glimmer of Hope.
by Priscilla Miller
Two years ago, Joyce Stolowski began experiencing breast pain. She had a premonition at that time, that something was seriously wrong and called her doctor. When Joyce’s sister learned that the doctor couldn’t see her for three weeks, she made a telephone call to Dee Lynch, co founder of the Antrim County High Tea For Breast Cancer Prevention.
Within an hour, Dee returned the call. She had made arrangements for Joyce to be seen by a doctor the next day. The doctor immediately ordered a mammogram and just as Joyce suspected, the news was not good. She says, “When you hear the word cancer you think, I’m going to die.” A few days later, the Antrim County High Tea For Breast Cancer Prevention had arranged for her to be seen by a surgeon and oncologist. She underwent a mastectomy and then chemotherapy, but when her cancer did not respond to traditional treatments, Joyce was told her condition was “terminal.”
After hearing such news, many people would simply resign themselves to the fact that they were dying, put their affairs in order and wait for the inevitable. But this is not the case with Joyce. She is a fighter and says, “I wanted to give up a couple of times, but I want to live.” As a result she became her own advocate, asking questions,searching the web, calling medical centers and reading anything she could get her hands on, that might offer a glimmer of hope.
When she heard about a school affiliated with the University of Texas, by the name of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center located in Houston Texas, that was doing clinical trials involving “cutting edge technology” Joyce knew this was her last hope. She had to give it a try. She called the facility repeatedly and sent numerous e-mails.
The oncologist that the Antrim County High Tea For Breast Cancer had been instrumental in originally arranging for Joyce to receive treatment from, advised her that the trial study, was a positive approach for her to pursue. He consulted with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to verify that Joyce had only months to live and that no such clinical trials relating to breast cancer are available in Michigan at this time.
Joyce’s persistence finally paid off. A few months later, she received word that she had been accepted to take part in a “targeted study” in which her stem cells would be harvested and then after destroying the diseased cells, the healthy stem cells, would be reintroduced back into her body in an effort to destroy the cancer that threatens her life.
Joyce says, “I encourage anyone in my position not to give up, to seek clinical trials because that’s how cures are discovered. Five years ago we didn’t have a vaccine for cervical cancer and today, thanks to research we do.”
The Antrim County High Tea For Breast Cancer Prevention was able to help arrange for her to fly to Houston and to provide her with some financial assistance, for help with her expenses while there.
Joyce flew to Houston on October sixth. When she returns and regains her strength, it is her intention to become an advocate and help others fight this dread disease. She hopes to join the Antrim County High Tea For Breast Cancer Prevention’s Education Program and not only stress the importance of having annual mammograms, but wants to help educate breast cancer patients, as to what types of resources are available and to draw from her own experience, with the clinical trial she is currently undergoing.
The hope that sustains Joyce at this time, was made possible in part, by the fundraising efforts of the all volunteer, not for profit Antrim County High Tea For Breast Cancer Prevention and its many generous contributors.
Today, Susie appreciates all the little things in life. Breast cancer survivor tells ACHT,
“You saved my life!”
by Priscilla Miller
Susie had only been living in Northern Michigan for a few months, when in November of 2008, she went to have her annual mammogram. She never supected that anything was amiss, so when she received word just before Christmas, that something on her mammogram indicated the need for further testing, she panicked.
Somehow, in spite of the dark fear now dwelling within her soul, this mother of twelve year old twin daughters and a fourteen year old son, managed to keep up a brave front and make Christmas happy for her children. In January results from a digital mammogram and ultrasound, revealed a suspicious lump in Susie’s left breast and indicated the need for a biopsy. Susie didn’t know what to do, or where to turn. She felt alone and frightened. She says, I didn’t know anyone here and I had no insurance. I was angry and asked, why me?
She remembered seeing an Antrim County High Tea for Breast Cancer Prevention flyer at a local store. ACHT is an all volunteer, 501 C3 organization that provides free mammograms to uninsured and under insured residents of Antrim County and partners with the Health Department of Northwest Michigan.
Susie went to the store, copied the number off of the flyer and in desperation made the call. With that one call, she was assured, everything would be taken care of and in no time at all, arrangements for Susie to have her biopsy were made. The results of that biopsy confirmed Susie’s greatest fears. She had breast cancer! An ACHT registered nurse helped allay some of those fears with a visit to Susie’s home. She answered any questions that Susie and her children had at that time and reassured them that she was only a phone call away.
In February, Susie underwent a complete mastectomy and biopsies of two lymph nodes revealed,one was cancerous. Three weeks later the remaining lymph nodes were also removed. Fortunately the biopsy results on these were negative.
Susie experienced periods of depression and fatigue but there were moments of laughter as well. Like the time one of her daughters asked, Is your breast going to be donated to charity? Another time one of them wondered why her mother didn’t walk lopsided after having the mastectomy?
Three months of traveling to Traverse City for chemotherapy treatments followed. ACHT helped defray the cost of these trips by providing Susie with gas cards. When chemo caused her hair to fall out Susie used a scarf to cover her head. Then, ACHT provided her with two beautiful wigs. The first time she wore one of the wigs, she went to pick up her daughters after school. One of her girls ran up to the car, opened the door and just as she was about to hop in, stopped dead in her tracks and not recognizing Susie with hair, exclaimed, Oh, I’m sorry! I thought you were my mother!
Today, Susie is in remission and says, I appreciate all the little things in life that I used to take for granted and I spend more time with my children now. She has a message for anyone who has volunteered their time or contributed to the Antrim County High Tea for Breast Cancer Prevention. She says, I felt sad and lonely but you came to me and my family with love, support, visits, cards, flowers and food galore! You saved my life and took care of my financial worries. God Bless each of you, and thank you.