Survivor: His wife, Cheryl
Most everyone is aware that October is breast cancer awareness month, but for most breast cancer is a nameless, faceless disease that you hope will not affect you or your family. I would like to put a name and a face to this terrible illness. My wife Cheryl was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer 20 months ago. This came after seemingly doing all the "right" things to protect herself: annual mammograms, self-exams, physician checkups, etc.
When diagnosed, the cancer had already spread to her liver and lungs. This began a long and difficult journey of 45 chemotherapy treatments and their side effects, blood tests too numerous to mention, mammograms, multiple CT scans, PET scans, bone scan, MRI, x- rays, countless visits to other doctors to control various side effects and others I have forgotten. But all the suffering she endured, the years of testing and research done by unknown doctors and chemists, paid off! Her oncologist, Dr. Powell, shared the results of her recent lumpectomy surgery and liver biopsy tests with us that show Cheryl is apparently cancer-free. And she got to "ring the bell" at the Hope Center signifying her treatments are complete! She will now begin a round of radiation (five treatments per week) and continued follow-up testing. But compared to the outlook a year ago…
Support from all aroundThe emotional effect of these many months was at times nearly crushing, but was eased somewhat by the love and support of so many. The nurses and staff at the Hope Center were always professional and yet upbeat and brought comfort and caring to the treatments. The support of our adult children, Angie, Christy, Mark and Sarah, as well as Cheryl's sisters, was unwavering. They often cared for our personal needs, accompanying us to treatments and responding to my "I have a job for you" calls.
Cheryl's mother Bernice, who sold her home and moved from Florida to be near her "baby," has brought us much comfort and support. Our many friends at the West Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses showered Cheryl with cards and flowers and brought us meals for many months, enabling me the time to care for Cheryl's other needs. And certainly not the least is our merciful God Jehovah, who sustained us and gave us endurance and hope for the future. Even the e-mails, cards and calls from her former workmates and staff at St. Rita's helped lighten the load and reassured her. Her unflagging confidence in surviving this battle was an inspiration to everyone she came into contact with. As an RN and a breast cancer survivor, she has been an encouragement and source of knowledge and support for others facing breast cancer as well as other types of cancer.
Advice for other co-survivorsFor all you husbands and other caregivers, get prepared with as much information as you can get, but remain hopeful. An oncology nurse friend told me that after the diagnosis that, she gave Cheryl six months to live. I was determined to do all that I could to ease her days as much I could. I spoiled her like a first child and denied her nothing. When asked, I told others that we were hoping that her treatments would extend and maintain a good quality of life.
Those 20 months began the loneliest time of my life. Most days she slept between meals and was too exhausted to do anything, as the effects of chemo treatment took its toll. The visitors and family naturally came to see her and I felt left out somehow. Due in part to the changes in Cheryl induced by painkillers and a host of other drugs, at times I even felt alienated from her. It was hard to adjust to, as this is bride of my youth, a person I have known all my life (we were neighbors and she is five days younger than me), and the closest friend I have. I believe caregivers need a break from the daily routine and a means to vent to preserve their mental health to be able to continue.
My suggestion to all women is to be aware of their bodies and any changes or pain. Cheryl's diagnosis only came after feeling discomfort in her liver. Her breast tumor was not easily discernible. Get those annual checkups. Draw close to your family and friends, let them help, and ask for their help if necessary. Their support can make a difference if you get sick. If diagnosed with this disease, get the best medical advice and care available. And remember they work for you! Follow all the doctor's instructions, get plenty of rest and soon you too will "ring the bell."
Story UpdateIn January, Cheryl was declared in remission! She will continue to be monitored with tumor marker tests, CT and bone scans. All those done since January show her to still to be cancer-free. She is still regaining her energy after the toll that chemo takes on the body. She continues to improve and we are convinced our 1-year old granddaughter Miranda was the best medicine she had, as she lived with us for 10 months or so. We call her the therapeutic baby, as she never failed to lift our spirits and helped Cheryl think of something other than all the things related to her illness. – Update provided by Earl, 3/16/2006