Faith was a strong theme throughout the many letters the Dispatch received from readers in response to our request on how cancer has affected them.
One reader shares how thoughts of, Why me? evolved into Why not me?
A husband shares his wife's valiant fight.
A 23-year survivor talks about how she learned never to say never.
In recognition of breast cancer awareness month, here is a sampling of what readers had to say about breast cancer:
Why not me?
A diagnosis of cancer can be devastating and fearful no matter what the type of cancer. Whether it be breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, etc. ... Just the word cancer, that one word can strike fear into the hearts and minds of even the bravest of souls. So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2008, I became one of the many thousands of people who are diagnosed with some sort of cancer every year. Cancer, that horrible disease had come and invaded my life, my body. When I found that suspicious lump my heart sank. Being a nurse myself, my gut was telling me this is not good, this is a large lump, my arm has been bothering me for a while, when was my last mammogram? 2002? 2003? When? I couldn't even remember. Somehow caught up in this everyday thing called life I had neglected to get my annual mammogram. You know how it is, I was so busy you see, caught up in the events and everyday struggles of life; so busy that I had neglected to schedule a physical or mammogram for more than four years. You all know how that is - son is getting married, daughter is expecting second grandchild, my son-in-law is leaving for Iraq, an uncle passes away. You get the picture. Busy. But being a nurse, I knew that being 48 years old and my neglect of a yearly mammogram put me in a high-risk category. No there was no breast cancer running through my family history so I had that going for me. But when all the tests came back positive for cancer the reality of this diagnosis landed in my life.
Breast cancer survivors Emily Lanin (left), Kelly Simons, Kathy Buxton and Lisa Slepica stood outside the mobile mammogram unit last October in the Mills Body Works parking lot in Baxter. The unit, which was donated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, will be making its way to the Brainerd lakes area in November and will be open to the public for free mammograms, information on breast cancer and the chance to talk to survivors. Brainerd Dispatch/File photo
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As a nurse through the years, I have taken care of many, many cancer victims, in various stages of their cancer journeys. Many at the beginning of their diagnosis, others through their fight with this disease, and yes, many others who were reaching the end of their journey. I have seen many of the people I have taken care of win their fight and come out the other side cancer-free. But I have also worked with and taken care of many of those who were facing the end of their fight, their journey. Through it all I heard from many of them, as well as from their families: Why? Why him? Why her? Why us? Why me? Why? Why? Why? I wish I could say that there is a set answer for that difficult question why. I wish I could say that I have the answer to that question. But sadly I do not. I can tell you that like many of my patients, I had that same why going through my head when I was told of my cancer diagnosis. Why, why me?
I was afraid, afraid of what this all meant, what would happen, what to expect, what would be the outcome, etc. ... I was afraid for my family, my children, my grandbabies, me? Afraid like millions of other people who have been faced with this same disease and are wondering why. Working with cancer patients and working in health care through the years I always saw cancer at a distance of sorts. Cancer happened to other people, cancer didn't happen to me. Cancer sat on others' doorsteps, invades other people's lives, not mine. So, why me, Lord, why me?
Needless to say I had myself a little pity party for a while, the why me blues. But after my short pity party, I prayed like I have never prayed before, I prayed to the loving savior who has always been there for me, who has given me my life and everything in it. The one who has in the past answered my prayers and given me many of the very things I have asked for and hoped for. But it was strange as I prayed like never before, I did not pray and ask him for healing or for a miracle. Instead I prayed for peace, comfort, wisdom and for faith to see me through my journey.
As word went out about my cancer diagnosis to family, friends, co-workers and church members, prayers began going up on my behalf and as those prayers began to go up, I felt a sense of peace that I cannot describe. Peace for whatever was to come, peace and acceptance for the journey I was beginning. ... Why did I think or feel that I should somehow be exempt from this sort of trip? But God being such a loving and good God, he knows what I needed in my life at that time to bring me closer to him. And this was my challenge. God never promised that the skies would always be blue and sunny and that I would have everything I always wanted. But he did promise me that he would be with me all the days of my life, that he would be there for me and walk beside me. As I thought about it and began to grasp my diagnosis, I realized that whenever I had been blessed with good things in my life, I had never challenged God and asked Why me? Why me God, why did you bring me this blessing? Why have you given me all these good things? But somehow when the difficult challenges showed up I was whining and crying why me? When God had answered my prayers in the past and granted me the things I had asked for I had never whined and cried about it. No, I hadn't gone on a pity party and cried why me. So now when God brought this cancer challenge to me I was moaning and crying why me. Where was my faith? When the prayers of my family and friends surrounded me, and the peace covered me I began to think, why not me? So that became my motto throughout my journey. God brings good out of bad and through my journey he showed me many ways I could reach out to others and share my cancer journey. And I felt that if I could help others through their challenges and journeys then why not me? If I could relieve one concern or comfort one person's fears, help out in some way no matter how small then why not me. If I can help others through this challenge then it has been worth it for me. I firmly placed my fears and concerns at the feet of Jesus and leave him to work out my healing or not. What may seemingly start out as a curse can be changed to a blessing for so many. God is in charge of my cancer and I trust in him and if I can manage to help one person see Jesus through this journey then why not me? -Marlene Morgan, Brainerd
A family of survivors
We are a family of breast cancer survivors - my mother, my sister and me. All diagnosed with breast cancer within the past seven years. First me, then my mother and lastly my sister. We have all walked this road differently, but we also have walked it together. We are blessed with a caring and supportive family. I cannot say this has been easy for my family but I can say that without the support of each other it would have been more challenging than I can imagine. I participate in the Brainerd community cancer events because my family has transplanted themselves there. And my beautiful nieces are being educated academically and with a deep sense of community in Brainerd. I would like to thank your incredibly supportive community for all that you have done and will no doubt continue to do. - Diana Roman, Burnsville
Now mom's story
In the fall of 2002, my husband and I returned home from vacation only to find out our oldest daughter, Diana, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Needless to say we were very scared, but she was a very brave young woman and had her chemo and radiation and is now a seven-year survivor.
The Central Lakes College volleyball team celebrated a point in its Cheer for the Cure tournament, which raised funds for cancer research Thursday. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
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The same time one year later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer also. I was very fortunate though, I only had to have radiation treatments. I was a little worried, but I also just did what the doctors told me and fortunately I am now a six-year survivor.
The story does not end there. In 2007, my second daughter, Kelly, was diagnosed; her cancer was more spread than ours. She had to have chemo, radiation and surgery. But she also was very brave and had a lot of faith and a wonderful support system here in Brainerd.
Breast cancer is a very scary word when you are first diagnosed. But if you get to a good doctor who you have faith in means a whole lot.
Hopefully that is the end of my story dealing with breast cancer. - Janet Roman, Brainerd
'It is what it is'
My wife, Nikki, died July 5 of last year of cancer. She was told in February she had cancer after a biopsy was done. While I was a basket case, she acted as though she had been told she had a bad headache. No tears or anger. She looked at me and said, It is what it is and I leave whatever happens to God. After going to the Mayo Clinic, she said we would spend what time was granted to us. There are those who fight for survival and my heart goes out to them, but there are those who have no choice. Her bravery at facing what lie ahead is something I'll live with for the rest of my life. She had been given (if that is the right word) 6-18 months. She lived for two. I thank God that when the time came, it happened fast; no lingering. To those who are facing cancer and their families and friends, may God go with you! - Phillip Netteler, Brainerd
Strength from their strength
I'm blessed to have five sisters in my life but only one brother. I grew up knowing that these ladies were all special in their own ways. This was confirmed as they each married and went on with their lives all over the country.
Sometime in the late '70s or early '80s, my mom found herself challenged with breast cancer. She had to have a mastectomy, yet from then on, you would never have known she fought and survived. She went on in her life with all the vigor and enjoyment that anybody could ask for. Another form of cancer took our mom in 2006 at the age of 82.
Then in the early 2000s, one of my sisters faced the same challenge. Her breast cancer came out of nowhere when she was in her mid 40s. She was in excellent health and condition when the cancer showed up. She had a single mastectomy and again, today like our mom, she is just as vibrant as anyone can be. She has helped me a lot in the days and weeks after our dad's passing from Hodgkin's lymphoma this summer. She was lifting and moving and cleaning and packing boxes like a teenager. Her smile is endless and her faith in God, who put this challenge in her life's book, is unfettered.
She connected with medical friends and now all my sisters are part of a genetic study to monitor all of them for signs of a cancer showing up in their systems.
I cannot imagine the fear, sleepless nights and pain my mom and sister went through with their battles but I know I am stronger from it. Why you might wonder - well I get strength from their strength. I do know that if that ugly cancer shows up anywhere in our family again, we will circle the wagons of our large family and fight and pray and we will overcome like so many others. It's just the way we are. - Jim Knudsen, Brainerd
Mom's first bout with breast cancer came in 1964 (mom was 40) when cancer was a big, deep, dark secret. I was 13 at the time and her radical mastectomy (one side only) was serious surgery that left her terribly deformed. At that time reconstructive surgery was not deemed necessary. She did not require any radiation. Many women rallied around mom ( I don't remember them all) to share their stories. These wonderful women helped her with prosthetics, clothing adjustments, exercises. All things that are so common today. They truly led the way to enlightening us all. - Karen (Knudsen) Trame, Florence, Ky.
Never say never
As a 23-year survivor, I've had regular mammograms every year, but last year, it showed some changes so I also had an ultrasound. I consulted a surgeon and told him I'm a 23-year survivor and I know I'm 70 percent at risk for breast cancer on the other side, the mammogram showed changes and ultrasound showed spots. I told him I wanted surgery, in fact, I wanted a mastectomy like the other side so I can be any size I want to be. He finally agreed to the mastectomy, which I had Jan. 21. I saw him at the clinic the next day for follow-up and 10 minutes before my appointment, pathology called to say they found very early, very small breast cancer, triple negative type. I was told the risk of recurrence was very small and the benefit from the chemo was small. I read on the Web, triple negative breast cancer is aggressive and invasive, so even though this was found very early and very small, because it was classified as stage 1, when I met with the oncologist I asked for chemo. (Twenty-three years ago when I finished chemo I said, Never again, but I learned Never say never.)
I had Taxotere and Cytoxan every three weeks for three cycles. Because we didn't know about the HER2 protein 23 years ago, we don't know if my breast cancer then was the same kind as this time, but I was told it was definitely not related or a metastasis.
I have had a great team of prayer supporters and have done well - much better than I expected. I have not missed more than a couple days of work - of course I only work three-four days per week so it's easy to flex my schedule. Work has been good therapy for me! I'm done with chemo and my hair is growing back. I returned the wigs two weeks ago to the hair dresser who volunteers for the American Cancer Society.
The lump was so small and deep, no one could feel it and the surgeon said it probably didn't even show on the mammogram. His comment to me was you must have had a sense - I said my sense was that whatever was there, didn't belong there and I wanted it removed. God had to be overseeing all of that - as he does - and deserves the credit and the glory. - Arvilla Felten, Brainerd
KATHI NAGORSKI may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5859.
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