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Never Give Up!

Jean Pierce, a breast cancer survivor!

My favorite (and only) brother, Larry James, has asked me to share my story with you about my experience with breast cancer. I hope it will be helpful to someone.

In October, 1994, after being on hormone replacement therapy for 6 years, it was recommended that I have a third biopsy on my breast (the second being 6 years before). The reason? There was an increase of micro-calcifications over previous mammograms.

On November 1st, I was diagnosed with breast cancer; invasive ductal carcinoma in situ. My husband, Dennis, went with me to the surgeon to get the report and he was very upset and emotional. Typical man; he felt helpless because he couldn't "fix" it.

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At this time, I felt peace and that this cancer was something in my life that I would have to go through just like any other problem, only God was with me, and He knew, before I did, that it was malignant.

There was no history of breast cancer on my mother's side of the family, however, on my dad's side, his sister and a first cousin had it.

My surgeon sent us to three doctors for consultation; an oncologist, a radiologist and a reconstructionist. It helped me emotionally to have Dennis with me because he listened as carefully as I did. The gift of humor has helped us through the experience!

After the reconstructionist had explained about the bag implant and we left her office, he whispered to me, "I've always wondered what it would be like to be married to a bag lady". I could've socked him as it's kind of crude, but I loved him for it.

I was scheduled for mastectomy surgery two weeks after diagnosis, but told the doctor to delay it one week. During that time, I studied about the specific cancer in depth so that I could make an intelligent decision. This helped me to gain peace about it as I definitely didn't want to regret it!

At the time of surgery, I had a temporary saline expander put in and removal of 13 lymph nodes which were not affected. I was very thankful for that. The only other treatment besides surgery was to take Tamoxifen for 5 years which is an estrogen blocker.

I had thought that I would never discuss it publicly if I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but when it happened, I made telephone calls to friends far and near to ask them to pray for my husband and me as we went through this experience.

I had a wonderful support system! Our 3 daughters were grown, but they were supportive of me by their prayers, bringing food, and understanding when I couldn't lift my grandchildren for a while. Others who supported me were my church friends, pastor and wife, fellow employees, friends in our community, including a representative from "Reach for Recovery," and the Christian cancer support group in Overland Park, Kansas.

Larry & Jeannie
Jean & her brother, Larry James
Circa 1945

Here are some of the ways that I dealt with the issues that arose as a result of having cancer. The 2 main side effects of Tamoxifen are hot flashes (or power surges) and weight gain. I accepted the hot flashes by asking the Lord for grace to bear them, which He abundantly gave - I remembered the phrase, "It came to pass". They really do!

As a result of having lymph nodes removed, I was left with a hollow armpit which I was unable to completely shave. It was frustrating at first, but I quickly accepted it and made a decision to not let it bother me since I couldn't change it - it's a fact of having had cancer. I was reducing stress by making that decision.

As for the weight gain of 10 pounds the first year, I could do something about that. I began walking briskly on a more regular basis and when I lost 4 pounds in 3 months, I decided to continue this exercise not only to lose weight, but to increase my heart rate. I lost the 10 pounds, plus 5 more, in 2 1/2 years. I also began to eat more vegetables and smaller portions of food in general.

Emotionally, I never felt that my cancer was a death sentence since it was discovered in the early stage and was not in my lymph nodes. As far as my self-esteem, I haven't felt sorry for myself because I had to go through cancer.

By participating in The Komen "Race for the Cure" for 5 years in Kansas City, it helped me to feel special when the cancer survivors were honored. This annual event is sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and has become the largest series of 5K runs/fitness walks in the world.

I held my head high because I was confident in how I fought it and survived. At the end of 5 years when I completed my medication, I celebrated by giving roses to many of the people who were my support system, including my doctors. It was such a relief to not go to the pharmacy each month, as well as to no longer have checkups with my oncologist. We agreed that we might only see each other at the grocery store.

Spiritually, cancer has helped me to prioritize the activities that I really want to do. I realize that God allowed me to go through a cancer experience so that I could bring glory to Him by how I handled it. In my relationships with people who have cancer, I have learned to be empathic with them and give support to them in humor, understanding, prayer and by recommending books of inspiration or about cancer.

My determination to enjoy life resulted in going snowmobiling for the first time with my husband in Colorado, 2 months after surgery. He was unsure how I would handle it, but after traveling 26 miles one way and back at 11,000 elevation on individual snowmobiles, he called me the "Snowmobile Queen" and I knew he was very proud of me. We had a great time.

My encouragement to someone about to go through breast cancer is:

  • Don't be embarrassed to reach out to people and tell them about your diagnosis.

  • Contact people you know who have had breast cancer and ask about their treatment. Research your particular cancer so you can make an intelligent decision for treatment.

  • Feel free to change doctors if you are not satisfied with them. When you go to the doctor, take a notebook with a list of questions with space for the answers. Record the conversation with the doctor, if necessary, so you can listen to it again at home.

  • Find encouragement in organized support groups which are very educational as well as emotionally uplifting. However, if I had for some reason been all alone in this world, I still had the greatest support of Jesus Christ, the Great Physician. I am so thankful that He helped me through the cancer experience.

  • Be sure to look over your doctor's statements and "Explanation of Benefits" from your insurance company to see that they agree. My doctor's office went through computer changes and I wasn't billed for a year, so I made sure their records were correct with mine. In addition, if you are billed before the insurance company has paid their part, wait to pay your portion of the statement when you are billed again from the doctor's office, after the insurance company has paid. This keeps everyone from getting confused.

Some reflections on things that bring happiness to me: accomplishing personal projects; celebrating with my family; conversations with my grandchildren; watching my cats; having inner peace with God; writing notes of encouragement to people; sunrises and sunsets; the opportunity to pray for someone; watching others respond to my smile when I'm on a walk; and enjoying looking at family photographs.

Never give up!

Copyright © - Jean Pierce. Reprinted with permission.

Be sure to check out our Beat Breast Cancer Kits!

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Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul: Stories to Inspire, Support and Heal - Mary Olsen Kelly, Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen - Since fighting breast cancer, Mary Olsen Kelly lives with a "Do it now!" attitude. The estimated 2.3 million women across the United States who have who dealt with or are dealing with breast cancer will find hope and a portable support group to sustain and comfort them in these times of need.

Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book - Susan M. Love - This book has been considered the bible of breast-care books since it appeared in 1990. In 1995, Love completely updated the book in a 600-page second edition, including new biopsy and screening methods, implants, the pros and cons of hormone therapy, new discoveries in breast-cancer treatment, and many other topics. Love presents copious medical information in a simple, welcoming style, and plentiful illustrations make the information even clearer. About two-thirds of the book deals with breast cancer: risk factors, prevention, screening, diagnosis, staging, emotions, treatment options, surgery, alternative treatments, clinical trials, and more. Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book
Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul: 101 Healing Stories of Courage and Inspiration - Jack Canfield & Mark Victor Hansen - In this special collection, you will read incredible stories from those who have reached beyond the pain of body and soul to survive cancer. It is a potent tonic for physical and spiritual healing.
Not Now... I'm Having a No Hair Day - Christine Clifford - Straightforward and honest, this wonderful book paints a realistic picture of what it was like for Christine Clifford to discover breast cancer, undergo surgery, and endure months of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Her moments of fear, frustration, embarrassment, love, and joy are captured playfully in 60 cartoons. Cancer patients and their families will readily enjoy a humorous look at a serious subject. Not Now... I'm Having a No Hair Day
Running As Fast As I Can Running As Fast As I Can: A Survivor's Guide to Winning the Race Against Breast Cancer - Lois Hilton Spoon - Exactly one year from the day she was told she would die from terminal cancer (October 29, 1993), Lois ran a ten mile race, and she hasn't slowed down since. A story of hope, God's miraculous intervention, and life, the stories from this book will fly from the pages into your heart. Lois lost her fight with breast cancer in 2002, but she didn't give up without a fight and her story is no less poignant now than it was when she first wrote it.

It is important to know the stages of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Information - Part 2 of 2
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