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Breast cancer is still a killer… Get tested

By Jim Hayes

I never believed that six letters could change my life.

That was, until my wife’s doctor uttered the word cancer.

We were sitting in her doctor’s office around February of 2010. Her November 2009, mammogram had come back looking “odd” according to the doctor who ordered another test.

At the meeting after that test, the doctor tried his best to soft-pedal the diagnosis.

“There are some small nodules,” he said. “We can’t tell if they are cancerous or not, so we recommend just going in and removing them.”

I’m a Marine, and I thought nothing short of a smoky-hatted drill instructor could scare me. But that word sent chills down my spine.

They set us up with an appointment with an oncologist who recommended a mastectomy at our earliest convenience.

That convenience turned out to be the day after my 50th birthday, April 15, 2010.

Thus. began the two of us living a double life. She has never acknowledged it, but both of us were scared of what the outcome would be. Outwardly, we tried to keep each other’s courage up.

My party line was that the tech was so far advanced now that they had certainly caught it earlier than they would have even four or five years ago.

Given what was happening the next day, my birthday was subdued.

The next day, I kissed her before she went into the operating room and then waited the eternity until the doctor came out and told me she had been moved to recovery. From there, it was three days recovery in the hospital.

I’ll never forget the day she first saw herself in the mirror.

She winced, slumped and began crying. She felt that somehow, she was no longer a woman. Her self-view warped and still affects her today, nearly 10 years later.

We then spent about a month at home, with her basically confined to bed. Our daughter, who had slept with us most of her first two years, had to be moved and couldn’t understand why she couldn’t sleep with momma.

As it turned out, we were extremely lucky. The carcinoma in her right breast were extremely aggressive, had exploded out of their encapsulations and began invading the breast. Luckily, they took enough of the tissue that the infection was completely extracted and stopped in its tracks.

That was 10 years and the cancer has been declared in remisson, but our year is punctuated by visits to the oncologist every six months.

Why would I tell this story in a student newspaper and why would I byline this editorial, which I usually leave without a byline?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and although my wife has apparently beat it, too many people still don’t.

And, as in my wife’s case, the science has advanced to the point that nearly the only reason to lose the battle with breast cancer is through simple laziness.

Yes, according to my wife, mammograms are a pain, but they are a pain worth enduring.

According to, it is estimated that breast cancer will account for 42,260 deaths this year (41,760 women and 500 men).

So, do the self-tests and if there’s something that feels odd, get to your doctor and let the professionals do their job.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that women consult with their physicians to determine when to begin mammograms but begins giving them at age 40.

Given that lots of ladies on the Vol State campus are at or near that age, it is a message I feel needs to be broadcast here.

A few years before my experience with my wife, I knew someone else with breast cancer. She wasn’t as lucky as my wife and died a painful death, leaving a husband and two daughters.

I would never wish that on anyone… especially any of my fellow inhabitants of the Vol State Campus.

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