10/24/2013 3:00:00 PM County women share their stories
about breast cancer battles
Peggy Lopez-Aguado and Rita Sullivan have not only conquered their breast cancers, but are also advocates of sharing the message of how important early detection is.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and women in the Switzerland County Community have agreed to share their stories and successes. Shown here are, front row, from left: Leona Adams and Jean Rose. Back row: Sherrie Wiesmann and Peggy Scudder.
Editor's note: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in an attempt to not only educate women and men about the signs and treatments of the disease, it is also a way to celebrate not only the battle of these women, but also the victory. Dozens of women living in and around Switzerland County share this story; and we salute their courage and determination.
PART 1: "This is not a death sentence"
They are eight women. Some working. Others retired. They come from different areas of the county, but they all share one common thread.
At one moment in their lives, they heard a doctor say the word that no one wants to hear:
As with other forms of cancer, early detection is a must, and when it comes to breast cancer, it is important that women have regularly scheduled mammograms, as well as perform self-examinations on a regular basis.
It is through those two methods that most breast cancer is found.
"Mine was through a mammogram, and the pathologist down at Madison," Peggy Scudder said. "I remember Dr. Cronen calling me and saying that 'we're 99-percent sure that it's nothing, but we're going to send it off to Mayo'. I thank God for that pathologist, because so many would say, 'yes, it's okay', but he sent it off and that's when they found it. I was really lucky."
That was two years ago this past October 6th.
"I know everybody has a story," Peggy Scudder said. "But on mine, everything that I went to do, it was on somebody's anniversary, somebody's birthday. I got the worst news every time we turned around."
Peggy Scudder also said that she worried over whether or not to undergo the BRCA test, which is a genetic test that detects the probability of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I really didn't know what to do, because if I had it and it said that it was something that I was susceptible to, then I would have had to go right in and have my ovaries removed," Peggy Scudder said. "I was scared to death, but I had it, and then I wanted to call the doctor and tell him that I didn't want them to find the results."
Peggy Scudder, like most of the women, has a history of breast cancer in her family. One of the problems is that breast cancer and other cancers were kept a secret in many families years ago, so sometimes even close family members didn't know that someone was battling the disease.
Today, with organizations such as the Susan B. Komen Cancer Project and the American Cancer Society, along with recognized events such as "Breast Cancer Awareness Month", people are feeling much more at ease about talking about how they dealt with the disease.
"You think about so many things," Peggy Scudder said. "You think about your husband. You think about all of those things. So many people say, 'Oh, this is what I would do', but until you're there, nobody knows what they would do."
Leona Adams just celebrated her third anniversary of her diagnosis, and she said that doctors were very straight forward with her when she got her diagnosis.
"I had to have a radical," she said. "They didn't give me any hope. I had to have 16 chemos and five days a week for five weeks I had to go over to Northern Kentucky and have radiation."
Leona Adams went home the day after her surgery because of the spread of flu in the hospital. She came home with all of her drainage tubes still in, and with directions for her husband, Richard, to give her a shot.
"Richard was a nervous wreck, so Mary Gordon is a retired nurse, and Richard called her," Leona Adams said. "She came down and gave me my shots and measured my fluids. She was a godsend."
For Leona Adams, the surgery revealed that the cancer was also in her lymph nodes, so that required an even more aggressive approach to wellness.
Also under consideration by the doctors was the fact that Leona Adams had gone through a lumpectomy 20 years earlier.
"It's been 27 years since I had mine," Jean Rose said. "I went in when I found the lump myself. The next day Dr. Cronen took pictures of it and sent me to Dr. Michaels. He gave me my options, and I looked right at him and said, 'What would you do if it was your family?' He said, 'Well, if it was my mother, my daughter, my sister, I'd have the breast taken off."
Jean Rose said that a spot was also found on her right breast, but tests on it initially came back negative. She had the left breast removed and a spot taken from the right one as a precaution, but six months later she said that they had a positive test on her right breast, so she went back into surgery to have it removed.
"Dr. Cronen was so wonderful for me, too," Jean Rose said. "He and Dr. Michaels. Dr. Michaels would come in and pray with me, and I remember once he came in and said, 'You haven't given up, have you?'. I told him that my patience wears thin at times, but I'm not giving up; and he say that 'I'm not giving up on you, either'."
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Sherrie Wiesmann had a lumpectomy on June 13th of this year.
"They were watching me and they had done an ultrasound six weeks before," Sherrie Wiesmann said. "When I went in I thought it was all going to be routine, and with the ultrasound being all fine, I was just going to have a mammogram and get back on schedule. Then they just coming back over and over again and taking more."
Sherrie Wiesmann went to Cincinnati to Good Samaritan Hospital, and after having a needle biopsy, her doctor thought that the best course of action was a lumpectomy.
"She said that she'd take tissue around it and check the lymph nodes," Sherrie Wiesmann said. "I was going back and forth as to what course of treatment I should do. It was hard."
"I think the one thing that you have to find a doctor who you really have confidence in," Sherrie Wiesmann said. "You have to have trust and you have to have confidence in your doctor. That's so important."
Faye Snyder was diagnosed in June of last year and had surgery about two weeks later. She followed that up with 36 weeks of radiation and is taking Tamoxifen - a pill that many breast cancer battlers take over a period of years.
Breast cancer cells cannot grow without estrogen, and Tamoxifen blocks the estrogen in a women's body from binding with a receptor cell, such as a cancer cell.
"Dr. Cronen found it," Faye Snyder said. "I never felt it and I didn't know it was even there. It was in the early stage and they caught it really early with a mammogram."
Faye Snyder says that she can't stress strongly enough how important it is for women to have regular mammograms - and her diligence in having them regularly meant that her cancer was caught early and dealt with.
"It was a surprise to me when they said that I had it," Faye Snyder said. "But it showed up and I was really lucky because they found it really early."
Faye Snyder said that when she first started getting mammograms, she was getting them once every six months, but now Medicare says that one a year is enough.
"Dr. Cronen said that it was in stage one," Faye Snyder said. "I think getting my mammograms every year really was a blessing."
For Linda Works, the importance of regular mammograms is even more personal.
One day as she got out of the shower, she found a lump.
"At first you go pretty spastic, because it feels really big," Linda Works said. "You go through all kinds of stages of being scared and fear. I didn't even tell Danny (her husband) until the next night. I think I was just in shock."
Linda Works said that she blames herself in some ways, because in dealing with her daily life with her family and a job, regular mammograms were put on the back burner.
"Time goes so fast, I know that's a cliché, but the older we get the quicker it goes," Linda Works said. "I thought that I had let it go one year too far, but when I called to check on all of this when I felt the lump, I told them that I thought I'd had one in the past few years, but the nurse told me that I hadn't had one since 2007."
She doesn't know if regular mammograms would have detected her cancer earlier, but she knows that it's really important to stay on a regular schedule - for your own peace of mind.
"As women we get so busy with helping everyone else with their lives, sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves," Linda Works said. "I would like to encourage all women to get a regular mammogram, for themselves. We need to make sure that we take the time to take care of ourselves, and a regular mammogram is so simple but so important."
Peggy Lopez-Aguado struggled with the time and money to have regular mammograms. Without insurance, she credits a program here in Switzerland County for detecting her cancer and leading her to get the treatment that she needed.
"I had never had a mammogram, and I didn't have insurance, Peggy Lopez-Aguado said. "I just decided three years ago to take advantage of the health department's free service. I went and had one, and Sandy called me and told me there was an abnormality. They sent me to Saint Elizabeth's for a second mammogram, and they put me into Komen's, and they took care of everything. They were so wonderful."
From there she had a biopsy, but when the biopsy was performed, the doctors couldn't find what had been seen on the mammograms, but radiologist told Peggy that deep down there was something that he couldn't identify.
From there, they gave Peggy Lopez-Aguado her options.
"They said that I could come back in six months and we'll look at it, or if you want to have a biopsy, we can do that," Peggy Lopez-Aguado smiled. "I said we're all here to cut something out, so let's cut something out."
Peggy Lopez-Aguado said that when the results came back, it showed a rare type of cancer that does not cause lumps.
"They said it was one of the worst kinds that you can have," she said. "By the time you do find a lump, it's too late. It was because the radiologist saw something that wasn't on Saint E's film. He just questioned it, and saved my life."
And her advice?
"It all comes back to those free mammograms at the health department," Peggy Lopez-Aguado said. "I mean, they're free. I don't understand why all women don't take advantage of it."
Rita Sullivan found what she termed a 'thickening' one evening while she was applying lotion nine years ago.
"I was due for a mammogram, and mine wasn't a lump, it was a thickened area, that's the best way I can describe it," Rita Sullivan said. "I went right in for a mammogram, and it didn't show up anything, so they sent me for an ultrasound. They said that the ultrasound showed a dark area, but they couldn't identify it as breast cancer or even a mass. I will always say that Renee Moore, the nurse practitioner at Madison, saved my life."
Rita Sullivan said that the important thing that Dr. Moore did was listen to her.
"She said 'nothing's showing up, but you feel something, don't you? You're worried'," Rita Sullivan said. "She paid attention to me, and she sent me on to another doctor, and he finally did feel it. Mine was deep like Peggy's, and it was hard to find."
So, on the day before her 55th birthday, Rita Sullivan had a mastectomy.
Her cancer, because of finding it early, was in stage one, so she didn't require any additional chemotherapy or radiation after her surgery - but she echoed the sentiments of all of the other ladies.
"You just can't be afraid, you have to go and have a regular mammogram," Rita Sullivan said. "I know there are a lot of women who are scared of what they might find out, but you just have to be brave. Breast cancer is not a death sentence, and with mammograms and self-examination, so much of it can be caught early, and that's so very important."
All of the women interviewed have been through the shadow of cancer and have come out the other side to again lead productive, happy, fulfilling lives.
In part two of the series, they will talk about how they have come to rely on each other; and how they are all ready to provide support for others who are facing similar obstacles.