OPINION: Breast cancer: A patient’s perspective

By Daily News • Last Updated 11:51 am on Friday, October 14, 2011

Courtesy photo Jean Southward, middle, a breast cancer survivor, flanked by her daughters, Nina Thelen, left, and Jasse Akin, at last year's Pink Ribbon Affair.

Cancer is the most disheartening diagnosis a patient and family can receive.
It is natural to have anxiety immediately when hearing the dreaded C-word. Jean Southward and her family from Carson City knows this experience all too well.
In February 2009, Jean went to her surgeon’s office after her seventh lumpectomy to find she had invasive-ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.
“I went alone,” she said. “All of my previous lumpectomies have been benign or negative.”
Navigating the health care system with any cancer diagnosis is confusing and nerve-wracking, at best. Jean felt the air was sucked right out of her body when the doctor told her.
Suddenly, to her surprise, her husband, Ron, appeared at the doctor’s office based on a gut feeling.
“I was not alone for long and together we drove immediately to tell our two daughters,” she said. “We approached our youngest first because we were concerned on how to approach my other daughter, who was expecting a baby.”
Sharing her shocking news to her children was dreadful and difficult for Jean. She feared trying to plan a course of action with her family would be just as hard.
That night, Jean remembers, the family gathered and there was silence.
“I could not take the quiet any longer and pointed out to the family that this is not a death sentence but a breast cancer diagnosis, and I was not dying tomorrow,” she said.
At that moment, Jean realized that people sometimes do not know what to say when someone is going through such a dramatic situation, such as finding out you have cancer. Based on what she had learned that day, Jean’s advice to anyone going through what she did is if you do not know what to say, say something, say anything.
Jean continued to work. To avoid any more uncomfortable silences, she held a meeting where she encouraged her coworkers to communicate, ask questions and share their feelings.
Communicating made her stronger, and her coworkers’ added support empowered her to stand up to her cancer.
Jean had a double mastectomy with lymph node dissection and became a grandmother eight days later. She said holding her new grandchild really helped her heal.
“I never knew my mother’s mother,” Jean said. “I kept telling myself I wanted to live long enough to make sure my grandchildren would remember me.”
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, Jean has learned that her experience wasn’t a slap across the face but rather more of a gentle shake of her shoulders that helped her take a step back and appreciate what she has.
Jean endured six rounds of chemotherapy and a year of treatment. Cancer invaded her life, took her hair and put she and her family through a fear she hopes few have to experience. Her experience, however, transformed her, both physically and emotionally.
Jean is now a strong woman who talks and shares her experience with others, hoping to empower them with the resolve and courage she gained from it. She has participated in golf outings and recently returned from Pennsylvania, where she went to a retreat for 14 women with breast cancer.
Her daughters have also been active in breast cancer awareness, participating in Susan G. Komen three-day walking events.
Jean will be participating in Carson City Hospital’s Brown Bag Lunch seminar on breast cancer at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday and will be available for any discussions.

Andrea Russell is a cancer survivor and an R.N. and breast health navigator for Carson City Hospital in Carson City.

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