COLUMN: Cancer number takes a new perspective when it’s someone you know
Tomorrow will be a very bad day for Charity. Hopefully it will be the valley before she climbs to the peak of good health.
Charity had the last of four chemo treatments on Thursday, and if the previous three rounds are any indication, her lowest day in the cycle will be tomorrow.
Then slowly she expects to begin feeling better little-by-little until she is back to her healthy self once again.
More than 200,000 women in the United States received the diagnosis of invasive breast cancer last year. The number will likely be similar this year.
Those are just numbers until the diagnosis is given to someone you know. Then it becomes real. Then it becomes personal. Then we realize the menace that breast cancer is.
This disease has struck too many people who mean a lot to me – mother, grandmother, college professor, friend. And now Charity.
Charity was a student in my class at Schofield Middle School during my teaching days. She was a bright, quiet sixth grader.
After she left Schofield, like so many of the students I taught, I had no contact with her.
Then a few years ago I learned that she was married to a friend that I do business with.
Earlier this year at the age of 36, Charity detected something that did not seem to be right. There was a burning sensation in the upper part of her breast.
It persisted, and while she was told that breast cancer rarely comes with pain, the feeling still concerned her. And the concern was great enough that she went to her gynecologist.
A sonogram was taken and later a mammogram followed by a biopsy. There was indeed something there, and surgery would be required.
During a lumpectomy, it was discovered that the cancer was more widespread in the breast than anyone expected. Charity made the decision to have a double mastectomy followed by the chemo treatment.
Charity is enthusiastic about a return to good health and about her chances for complete recovery.
She plans to be one of those longtime cancer survivors, and she said that all indications are that that will be the case.
Her life has been turned upside down by this discovery, but she views this episode as an opportunity to help others, not a reason for self pity.
She is a strong woman with deep faith who is facing her challenge head-on. I admire her courage, her determination and her optimism.
I pray for her full recovery and for the words “cancer free” to be in her vocabulary for many, many years to come.
Charity gives much of the thanks for her battle against breast cancer to the medical professionals in Aiken who have cared for her and to our local hospital where she has received what she calls wonderful care.
When I spoke with Charity this week and reminded her that this is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I asked what advice she would have for other women.
She said they should listen to their bodies. If something seems outside the norm, don’t let it linger, get it checked out. That is what she did, and she was able to catch her breast cancer in the early stages.
She also said that women need to make sure they have physicians who listen to what their patients tell them.
Charity said she is fortunate to have just that, and, because her doctors listened, she was able to get the diagnosis and treatment that was needed.
When the sun rises tomorrow, think about Charity.
She will be feeling terrible, she will have a long, hard day, but she will be looking forward to a life without cancer.
With each passing day afterward, she will feel better, and things will be brighter.
Her strength will return, the ill effects from the chemo will wear away and life will return to her new normal.
It is a normal that recognizes the reality that, even though she made right choices in her life, bad things can still happen.
It is a normal that may cause her to focus attention on new things in life and to help other women who face the stern challenges of cancer.
This illness will not define Charity, but how she has reacted and what she does in the future as a result of overcoming the disease certainly will.
So think about Charity tomorrow morning and the struggle that she will have during the day.
And for the rest of the month, think of those 200,000-plus women around our country who will receive the diagnosis of breast cancer this year.
Think of the path that they have in front of them.
Pray that they will have the courage of Charity.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.