Sue Hooley: Our Journey

What can I say? Wasn’t it my journey through cancer? Certainly, I was the one with the diagnosis of breast cancer. I was the one undergoing the biopsies and then the double mastectomy, the reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy. But in spite of all that, it was our journey. My cancer diagnosis affected the lives of all my family and my friends. It wasn’t a journey I walked alone.

Raised in Eastern Kentucky with three brothers and five sisters, my parents were missionaries. I met my husband Bill while doing voluntary service with a local church. We married and now have three wonderful children, Eric, Karm, and Beth.

We began our cancer journey in 2005 when a radiologist saw suspicious images on a mammogram. That mammogram was followed by a biopsy which came back benign. Unfortunately, in the next few years there were more suspicious mammograms and more biopsies. I dreaded going for my annual mammogram, because I knew the chances were high that I would have another biopsy. I even asked if my breasts could be removed so I could stop having the biopsies! The answer was no, until February of 2010 when the radiologist said there were three suspicious areas that needed biopsied. Needless to say, this was not news I wanted to hear, but on March 16, 2010, I went to see Dr. Laura Morris – the breast surgeon at The Women’s Retreat. After seeing the mammogram images, I knew they looked different from my previous ones, but I still wanted to postpone the biopsies. It was my husband Bill who said “If you’re going to do it in six months, just go ahead and do it now.” So once again, I went to the biopsy table. The following day, Dr. Morris called with the news that there was ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in the right breast. After much prayer, Bill and I made the decision to have both breasts removed.

My family and friends immediately surrounded me with love and support. My sister Twila is a nurse in Pennsylvania. She wanted to help, but didn’t know what she could do. I told her I needed information about reconstruction, so I knew what was involved with that process. When I saw the plastic surgeon, Twila made sure I was well versed in silicone gel implants, expanders and the reconstruction process.  That was a huge blessing!

My surgery on April 21st removed both breasts, and we thought the worst of the journey was over. Unfortunately, the tissue samples sent to the laboratory for examination after surgery revealed another 1.5 cm tumor, which meant I actually had invasive breast cancer, not just in DCIS. I was now facing lymph node biopsies and possibly, chemotherapy. The journey which we had hoped was over was truly just beginning.

Previous to my diagnosis, I was studying the Psalms and was also memorizing Psalm 139 with my mom and sisters. I wondered if God was preparing me for the future. One verse that particularly spoke to me was “The Lord hems me in behind and before. He has laid his Hand upon me.” This verse became my comfort throughout the cancer journey.

My visit with Dr. Bruetman revealed one of the lymph nodes did indeed show cancer. Now the decision had to be made about chemotherapy. My father had died from leukemia and Bill’s father from lymphoma. We knew what cancer could do, so we took no chances. I was scheduled for a nine week regimen of Cytoxan and Taxotere to begin mid July. Needless to say, our journey through chemotherapy had some bumps. During my second infusion, I had an allergic reaction followed by a vagal response. I also experienced red blotches, chest wall pain, light headedness and hives – along with the more typical side effects. I was so blessed by the helpful and caring infusion room nurses and Dr. Bruetman.  Thankfully, I was able to finish chemotherapy and move towards my last implant surgery on October 27th. My journey through cancer was finished and I was well. Looking back, I know that I would not have made it without the love and support of my friends and family. Now cancer free, I serve as a Survivor Buddy volunteer at the Goshen Center for Cancer Care, to help new patients through their cancer journey.

 

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