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Pink Matters Q&A

UNDERSTANDING WOMEN

Women in our community are living with cancer, surviving and thriving. The Advocate interviewed cancer survivors and these women share their thoughts on this pink matter. How can you fight breast cancer?


Beth Morris, 51 at diagnosis, Retired mortgage underwriter, Married, one child

How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I noticed a change in the nipple because it was slightly inverted. I kept thinking that it was just my imagination. After about 6 weeks, I reported it to my doctor, and we started investigating with mammograms, biopsies, scans, etc.

What was your reaction?
At first, I was bewildered because there is no family history of breast cancer. Why me? What have I done to deserve this? Those were my thoughts.

What treatment methods did you undergo?
My doctors recommended a breast-saving treatment plan that included 4 chemo sessions,lumpectomy and 33 radiation treatments. The process lasted about 6 months, and I played tennis and traveled to Europe during this time.

How has your illness affected your perspective on life?
I retired in 2006 and had really started to have some fun and didn’t want that to change … I have always had a strong will to do things my way, and I decided not to sacrifice my lifestyle. I captained one successful tennis team in a local league, and I was a member of a USTA team, which won the local, state and regional titles. I learned that it’s easy to play tennis without hair! Just put on a baseball cap full of ice or a ski cap, depending on the weather. I also traveled to Europe one week after my first chemo treatment. A river cruise through Germany was fantastic because the afternoons were quiet and perfect nap time. I left a lot of DNA (hair) there, and the airport security folks didn’t like my hats, but no hair meant more time sightseeing, and I didn’t have to pack shampoo.

Do you have any advice for others with breast cancer?
Keep doing what you love to do. It gives you something else to focus on. There may be a few days or weeks that are worse than others, but the drugs the doctors used really worked. This season, I’m on six tennis teams!

Jacqueline Juneau Milazzo, 49, Woman’s Hospital, Registered Nurse, Married, 3 teenaged children

How did you find out you had breast cancer?

My right breast had been extremely sore for three days, but I had passed it off as my fibrocystic condition flaring up. One night I began experiencing extreme pain with a lot of pressure in my right breast and slight soreness in my left. I was able to feel a large lump, slightly larger than a quarter. Two days later I had a mammogram at Woman’s, then an ultrasound and biopsy that same day.

What was your reaction?
I can remember sudden panic and my body went limp … It was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. I don’t think anyone can be prepared to be told you have cancer. I questioned what had I done so wrong in my life to deserve this.

What treatment methods did you undergo?
My “C” journey plan included chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. I read a lot and inquired from other cancer survivors about their experiences. With my first and second chemo, I did suffer with mouth, gums and throat ulcers, making it hard to chew and swallow. My third chemo treatment was a breeze; my fourth, fifth mand sixth treatments made me really sleepy … I did have to sometimes miss work, which was supported by my job and co-workers.

How has your illness affected your perspective on life?
I recommend sticking to a daily routine. I had to accept that I was now the patient and had to let others care for me … My faith in God was always strong, and it only became stronger.

Do you have any advice for others with breast cancer?
From the moment we enter this world, God has already planned our whole life. One of my wonderful patients reminded me of this. Affirm to yourself that you will survive. Keep positive and accept others’ help and support. Listen to others’ stories and journeys. Live out your bucket list. Make sure you and your loved ones have regular mammograms, perform selfexams and report any unusual findings. If you have concerns, go with your gut and call your doctor. It could save your life, it did mine.

Ming-Jean Tang, 54, Valet Grocery, Single

How did you find out you had breast cancer?
Every year I get a reminder from Woman’s to get my annual mammogram. You go into these appointments thinking it’s never going to be you, but this time it was. After they did the initial scan, they asked me to wait, then they took some more photos and finally they told me the doctor wanted to see me. My heart was pounding.

 What was your reaction?
I was shocked – this couldn’t be happening to me. Why did this have to happen when I was trying to get my business started? I cried and cried, and then I prayed and asked God to help me. It calmed me.

What treatment methods did you undergo?
I was so lucky that my cancer was a Stage 0. Dr. Michael Hailey did a biopsy and I underwent radiation.

How has your illness affected your perspective on life?
My life is so busy with our valet grocery business. I work 12 hours a day. When I asked God why this had to happen now, I realized that it was actually a blessing – a blessing that He allowed it to be found at a Stage 0. Anything more advanced would have been too hard for me to manage. I’ve become even stronger in my faith and do not waste a single day. I’ve also found that anger only hurts me, so I am more patient and kind with others. Despite my company’s financial struggles, we found a way to give back in return for my good luck. Since we are a home delivery service for groceries, we have waived some of the delivery fees for cancer patients who don’t have the strength to shop for themselves. It’s a small token but being a cancer survivor, it was important to me.

Do you have any advice for others with breast cancer?
Get your annual checkup. It can save your life like it did mine. Find a physician you trust completely and who develops a treatment plan you agree with wholeheartedly.

Darla Zachary Sims, 46, Woman’s Hospital analyst, Married, 2 children

How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I found the lump in my left breast, and at my yearly checkup I was told it was a cyst and to watch it … Several weeks later, my husband saw a past neighbor and learned his wife was having surgery for Stage 4 breast cancer. She was in her 30s and found her lump, just like I did. I prayed for her all weekend … On Monday, I made an appointment. We did an ultrasound and the mass showed up. The radiologist did a core needle biopsy.

What was your reaction?
I was shocked. I started to cry. I kept saying, “Why God? Why me?” All I could think was how was I going to tell my husband and my kids. I also thought what if I die. I want to see my kids grow up, graduate, get married and have kids.

What treatment methods did you undergo?
My type of breast cancer is found in the milk ducts. It was Stage 1 almost Stage 2. I had a lumpectomy and two lymph nodes removed for testing. It wasn’t in the lymph nodes, so I did not have to have a mastectomy. I had four chemotherapy treatments and took the injections to boost my white blood cells … I was really tired and lacked energy … I also had radiation treatments every day for 6½ weeks.

How has your illness affected your perspective on life?
It has made me more aware that we are not promised tomorrow … Also, put God first in everything. He allows us to go through things we sometimes don’t understand. I didn’t know then I would have to be there for my mom, who was diagnosed last August with breast cancer. God is bringing her through it, too.

Do you have any advice for others with breast cancer?
Have a positive attitude and a good outlook. Look at the big picture and envision yourself healed … Breast cancer is not a death sentence, it is beatable. Lots of prayer and faith and everything will be fine.

Courtney Loup Edwards, 31, LSU employee, Business Owner, Married, 2 children

How did you find out you had breast cancer?
In November of 2009, I was having some pain, so I went to the doctor. She thought it was some normal hormonal issues, but still sent me in for a mammogram … Turns out, the pain wasn’t anything, but they found a spot on the completely different side that, after an ultrasound and biopsy, was determined to be cancer. Suddenly, I was facing breast cancer at 28 years old.

What was your reaction?
I broke down. The only thing I could think about was my husband and my 1-year-old daughter, how they NEEDED me, and there was no way I could die now. It’s hard not to “go there” when you automatically think cancer is a death sentence. I had to put my faith in God and know that there was some reason I was being chosen for this, and that I was going to get through it some way. I had the support of family, friends, church and work to get through each day.

What treatment methods did you undergo?
Because my cancer was caught so early, I didn’t even have a lump yet, and it was contained in the duct. I was able to do a double mastectomy with no radiation or chemotherapy. I still go in every three months for blood work and have yearly ultrasounds.

How has your illness affected your perspective on life?
I definitely don’t get caught up in the little problems as much as I did … I cherish the time with my children, husband and family, and am grateful for every moment I have with them. Life is so short!

Do you have any advice for others with breast cancer?
The best advice I can give is to take charge and win the mental battle first. The right state of mind is critical to getting well. You have to be determined to win and not let cancer get you down … Take your health in your own hands. Push for more tests, aggressive treatment and, most of all, make sure you are comfortable with your doctors and the treatment plan you decide on.

Erin Mosley, 37, Director of Scheduling, Office of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Married, 2 sons

How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I just decided to go have a mammogram because I was 35 years old. I did not have any symptoms. After my first baseline mammogram at Woman’s Hospital I was called back for an ultrasound, then a fine needle biopsy. Thanks to the wonderful radiologists at Woman’s, they detected my cancer.

What was your reaction?
Disbelief, scared to death and overwhelmed with anxiety and fear. Then I went into survival mode – literally. I couldn’t let this cancer get me. I have a wonderful husband, children, family and friends to continue on for. I need to see my children grow up. I want to see them graduate and get married.

What treatment methods did you undergo?
I had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I opted to take both breasts. I didn’t want this demon to come back on the other side in a few years. It was a tough decision, but the absolute right one for me, and I have never regretted it. I had six rounds of chemotherapy and a year of Herceptin that was administered through my chemo port. Now, I take the oral medication, Tamoxifen, for five years.

How has your illness affected your perspective on life?
I try not to sweat the small stuff as much. I truly appreciate each and every day … Anything can happen to anyone at any time. It is important to realize that sick or not, it is truly a gift to wake up each and every day. We are all very blessed if we get tomorrow.

Do you have any advice for others with breast cancer?
One very important thing is to come up with a good game plan for your support system, and find the best doctors for you … Once you decide on your game plan, move forward and start taking control back over your life! Another important thing is to realize you are not going to die tomorrow … If you are given this cross to bear, there is a plan and a reason for it. Once you get over the initial shock, take the cross, learn from it and teach others along the way.

Linda Fryoux Harvison, 64, St. Joseph’s Academy principal, Married, 2 sons

How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I found the lump doing a routine self-exam … When the doctor did the biopsy, I learned I had a tumor in each breast.

What was your reaction?
Once the surgeon called, I took the time to let it sink in, called my family and knew that I just had to move forward and get this taken care of.

What treatment methods did you undergo?
Mammogram, sonogram, breast biopsy and surgery. I will do chemo and radiation and take the hormone pill.

How has your illness affected your perspective on life?
I feel I have always been a positive person, and this has made me realize how important it is to stay positive … At school, we often start prayer with the words “Good and Gracious God,” and I believe that is what our God is. This is a challenge placed in my life, but my daily readings keep me understanding that I am cared for and not alone. God speaks to us through others, and I have many people, including 1,018 girls, supporting me, praying for me and being with me on this journey. My journey cannot be private. In my position, I am a very public figure. I can only hope that my journey is a story that my girls will not forget, and that their mothers and grandmothers will take the time for self-exam or mammograms.

Do you have any advice for others with breast cancer?
Take action: self-exams and mammograms. Don’t question the need. The minute you think it, do it. Stay positive and surround yourself with positive people. Build yourself a support base of those who will help you stay active and address the issues. Find doctors you trust and who will spend time with you. Work with your family or support system to make decisions, but remember the ultimate decision is yours. Take time for yourself. Rest. It is OK to be “all about you.” Enjoy a not-so-clean house, read a good book, pray and reflect. Find your God in your life.

February 2013: Linda Harvison, principal of St. Joseph’s Academy, and active breast cancer fighter is welcomed as Woman’s Victory Open 2013 Honorary Chair.

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