Anyone who watched NFL football Sunday had to notice that all of the players and coaches were wearing something pink. From caps to shoes and gloves, professional football players were showing their support for breast cancer awareness and survivors.
Sallie Farmer of Quincy didn't watch any football last weekend but she is grateful for the support. Farmer is a 5-year breast cancer survivor and credits much of her recovery to the advances in research and the educational programs by the American Cancer Society.
During a self breast examination in November 2003, Farmer noticed a lump in her left breast. Her daughter, Deryl, a nurse, told her not to be alarmed but to keep it checked. Farmer had planned a cruise in December 2003 and promised herself that when she came back she would go to the doctor. It was during another self breast examination that she noticed a change in the mass in her breast.
"I went to the doctor on Jan. 4 to have it checked and they immediately sent me for a mammogram. I was called back 3 days later for another test. I took my daughter with me and they asked me to call her in. I will never forget her words," Farmer said.
She was told the tissue sample indicated there was a 90 precent certainty that she had breast cancer. The nurse told her that cancer is not a death sentence and that to win she had to be a fighter. The nurse, she said, told her most survivors beat the disease mentally and not giving up is half the battle.
Armed with a good attitude, doctors she trusted and a solid core of family and friends, Farmer underwent surgery 10 days later for removal of her lymph nodes.
"I had radiation 5 days a week for 4 weeks followed by chemotherapy. But I didn't want to sit at home so I went back to work. Some people thought it was too soon but I knew that as nice as people were to me and my family by cooking, cleaning and doing whatever they could, I had to get out of the house and back into a routine," she said.
A fourth grade teacher at Gretna Elementary School, she said she never tried to hide her illness from students or coworkers. Her students, coworkers and the staff made her return to work a pleasant experience.
"The radiation makes you tired. The kids were protective and helpful. They would rush over if they saw me trying to lift something or other teachers would offer to grade my papers or help with the bulletin board. It might sound like small things to some people but those kindnesses lifted my spirits every day," Farmer said.
Farmer will be one of six breast cancer survivors honored Saturday with a "Pamper Me Pink" luncheon at the M.S. Moore Lodge.
Another teacher a few miles down the road at Robert F. Munroe Day School is also a breast cancer survivor. Cheryl Snipes Smith shares her story in her own words:
"This October marks the 15th year since I found a lump in my right breast that was the following summer diagnosed as cancer. The day after the discovery, I went to see my gynecologist and he arranged for me to have a mammogram that night at 8 o'clock. The next day, I returned for a sonogram. Even though the tumor was palpable, neither test showed a malignancy. I was relieved to hear the doctor say that we would check it again in 6 months.
But by then, I could tell that it had changed shape, so I was sent to a surgeon who did a needle biopsy. I think that he knew the minute he did the physical exam and the non-clear, non-cyst-like fluid was just a confirmation. A mammogram the next day made it official. In July, I had a lumpectomy then began chemotherapy every 3 weeks for almost a year because by then there was also lymph node involvement as well as radiation every day for a month.
Blessedly I did not lose my hair.
Two years later a routine mammogram discovered microscopic calcifications on the left breast with a biospy confirmed as malignant. Again, I had a lumpectomy followed by radiation. It took a long time to get over the fact that microscopic traces had shown on a mammogram but a tangible tumor had not.
This is one lesson I would like for people for people to learn from my experiences: routine examinations are crucial whether you think so or not. Another lesson would be to seek a second and even a third opinion from different types of doctors. I had no idea that a surgeon would be so crucial before surgery. Mammograms are just one safeguard.
Even though I still trust my Tallahassee physician explicitly, I also learned to listen to my own instincts. And an often neglected source is the people who've been down the road before you. One of every nine women (and some men, too) has made the journey already. The insights are just as valuable as those of the professionals. However, the best lesson I have learned is that you can survive. I obviously have," Smith wrote.
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