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FACING CANCER - June 28, 2006

About 12 years ago, I enrolled in a clinical trial study on Breast Cancer. Eight of my close family had breast cancer before me. I wanted to do everything possible to see this chain broken.

I have always had regular mammograms and check ups, so it was a surprise last October when I was called back for a deeper mammogram. This led to a biopsy, which proved that I did have a low grade, non invasive cancer. This was followed by a lumpectomy, then another procedure to widen the margin, and then eight weeks of radiation.

My first thought was, I can’t do this, I don’t have time, I can’t be gone from home that long. Then I came to my senses! With God’s help, I can do anything. During the whole eight months from October until now, I was in His hands, even though sometimes I did not know it!

I became acutely aware of this one Sunday in February when the scripture read in church was Joshua 1:9. It said in very plain language:

Be strong and courageous

Do not be terrified

Do not be discouraged

For the Lord will be with you wherever you go.

I was excited, “This is it, I can handle being in Morgantown for seven weeks!”

But that was not the end. That night I walked into church just as our pastor was reading the scripture, “Jesus went out to the mountain to pray.” I had been hearing about the new state of the art Cancer Center at Elkins, so it seemed God meant for those words to really hit me.

WVU made the arrangements and I stayed at Canaan Valley and drove myself to Elkins each day. The 35-minute drives were a pleasure, because each day the scene changed as winter turned to spring in the mountains.

The Center was very capable. Its radiation oncologist had trained at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Tex. The staff was very compassionate and friendly. We traded garden information each day during the treatment, which only took eight minutes.

There were frustrations and problems, but if I was patient, there was always an answer. The first week of treatments was a real trial! I received a call each day as I was almost to the hospital that the equipment was not working. My first thought was, “Is God telling me that this is the wrong place, after all?”

 But I could tell by the facial expressions of the receptionist, doctor and technologists that they were frustrated, worried and did not want to face me.

It was Holy Week and I was meeting long time friends, Betty and Voras Haynes, for lunch and church services each day. Voras told me the pharmacist was Steve Crawford, also from Grantsville, and the hospital administrator was Mark Doak, a friend who worked with the board of Calhoun General Hospital during the nineties. He happened to be living in the Valley while his home was being remodeled and offered to help with transportation.

Most days I drove myself to Elkins. On Wednesdays, friends took turns going with me. We explored the town, ate at local places, and were regulars at the visitor centers.

Friends now ask me many questions. The main points here are: No, I did not lose my hair. It only affects the area which is affected. You have tattoos on your breast and these are to pinpoint the radiation to exactly the right spot. I was usually tired on Mondays, but this was probably because of the weekend’s longer travel. I would also take 15-minute power naps during the day. Daily walks around the park usually followed the daily treatments. I was never nauseous. The only recognizable side effect was a light burn, almost like a sunburn. Whatever side effects might occur, there would be a treatment for it.

I have four thoughts to leave with you .

1.  Look and listen for God’s answers to problems.

2.  Have your checkups. This includes self checks and scheduled mammograms. My mammogram is usually scheduled around my birthday.

3.  Expect and receive communication from your health care providers. Insist on answers to your questions. You have the right to receive your reports as scheduled.

4.  Remember that new treatments are developed ever day! New clinically tested treatments have been released even in the past month. This is not just breast cancer, it includes other types too. It is in newspapers, magazines, and on recognized web sites.

5.  Don’t go into solitary lifestyle. Friends are willing to help. When they ask, let them know how to help. Each Wednesday, a friend would go with me. I didn’t need them, but it was pleasant to anticipate a special time.

When the last treatment was over, it was a bittersweet feeling. I was glad that I could go home at last, but also sad to miss daily contact with my friends and their spiritual support.

My nephew sent me this message after hearing of this feeling. It reminds me of a song by Steven Curtis Chapman. It is about the Lord taking us up on a mountain and mountaintop experiences. It helps keep the good times and bad in perspective.

You bring me up here on this mountain

For me to rest and learn and grow.

I see the truth up on the mountain

And I carry it to the world far below.

So as I go down to the valley

Knowing that you will go with me

This is my prayer, Lord,

Help me to remember what you’ve shown to me . . .

Up on the mountain.

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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