Looking Fear in the Face
By Claudia Watson
Special to The Pilot
What does brave mean? The dictionary says it applies to someone who is ready to face and endure danger or pain.
My youngest sister, Jenny - who lives in Ohio, where I grew up - is brave.
Last March, she did what she was supposed to do. She had her annual mammogram. It was negative. Over Labor Day weekend, she enjoyed the fun of the annual county fair with our sister Pat and an assortment of fun-loving nieces, aunts and girl cousins.
Then she noticed a lump while in the shower, and her breast was painful and warm to her touch. Her doctor, thinking it was mastitis, an infection of the mammary glands, ordered a sonogram out of caution. He also prescribed antibiotics. They did not relive any of her symptoms. Her life began to change.
During the second week of October (which, ironically, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now drawing to a close), she had a comprehensive series of mammograms and underwent two needle biopsies followed by an MRI. The results were not good.
She called me, her tearful voice begging, "How could this be? My mammogram was fine in March. How could I have breast cancer? How could this be so bad, so quickly?"
She said she was praying for a miracle. We were all praying.
On Oct. 17, she got a second opinion at the esteemed Cleveland Clinic, a 3D mammogram and skin punch biopsy. When she returned home, on Oct. 18, she had CT, bone and echocardiogram scans. On Oct. 19, less than two weeks after this ordeal began, we spoke by phone again. Her plaintive voice quivered as she spoke. Then it fell off in tears as she tried to tell me what the doctor told her.
Sister Pat came to her rescue on the phone and told me the rest of the story. There was no debate. The doctors agreed. Jenny, who is 46, and single, has stage three, inflammatory breast cancer.
Inflammatory breast cancer is a rare and very aggressive disease and accounts for one to five percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States. It progresses rapidly, often in a matter of weeks or months, and as in Jenny's case, this insidious disease often mimics mastitis between regular screenings.
With this disease, there is no time to waste. Jenny needed to begin her battle immediately. On Oct. 22, she reported to the local hospital for the insertion of a power port that would be used to speed her systemic chemotherapy throughout her body and help shrink the tumor. In the spring, she will have a mastectomy to remove the tumor, followed by radiation therapy.
The focus of her life has changed so abruptly from that carefree autumn day at the county fair. Her days and nights are now consumed with a singular focus - life. She is learning to deal with her fear, but more significantly, she is reaching out for life and savoring God's greatest gift, a new day.
I recall the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: "We gain strength, courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face. We must do that which we think we cannot."
Jenny is looking fear in the face. She does not wear an armored vest. She does not carry an automatic weapon. She is not a trained warrior.
However, she walks into this battle with her fists up and with steadfastness of mind and heart that she will win.
She is my sister. And damn, she is brave.
Claudia Watson is a Pinehurst freelance writer, who can be contacted at email@example.com. For more information about inflammatory breast cancer, visit cancer.gov/cancertopics/ factsheet/Sites-Types/IBC
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