In their own words. Survivors tell their stories.
Columbus, Ohio In her own words:
On March 23, 2007, I received the news everyone dreads. I had cancer. Never in my worst nightmares would I have imagined that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer at age 46.
I eat a healthy diet. I am a vegan vegetarian. I exercise every day. I thought these factors alone should have helped me. So when my doctor told me I had cancer, I thought "that can't be right."
After my diagnosis, I was scared. I was scared for myself. But I was also scared for my 18-year-old son, Matthew. I knew it would be very hard for him. I knew because my mom had had cancer, too. So did my father.
In 1993, my father died of lung cancer. A year and a half later my mom died of the same disease. Both died suddenly, two months after their diagnosis. In the span of 19 months, I had lost both my parents to cancer. It was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. And now I had to tell my son that I had cancer, too.
The first evening of my diagnosis, I sat hand-in-hand with my husband, Doug, and Matthew on our loveseat. I will never forget what my husband said to me that day: You may have cancer, but cancer does not have you. That phrase has become our mantra.
After undergoing a lumpectomy, I started chemotherapy. My treatment was going fine. But then, unexpectedly, my white blood cell count fell. My doctors became concerned. They suggested I get a shot of Neulasta. Now, I am always on the hunt for shopping bargains. It's what I blog about every day on TheBAG.com. So trust me when I say, Neulasta was no bargain. This one shot cost $4,500!
My chemo treatment wreaked havoc with my body. I got mouth sores. I had an aversion to most smells. I had a nasty taste in my mouth that could be intolerable. And my hair fell out. But one good thing I can say about the bald hair-do is that it saved me time getting ready in the morning. I just put on one of my wild "do rags" and my fake bangs and I was ready to go.
When my breast cancer treatment was complete, my hair grew back. But it grew back differently.
Before chemo, my hair was auburn red. Now it's brown. Before my hair was straight. Now it's curly. Cancer treatment does strange things to your body.
My hair was not the only thing about me that was changed by cancer. I changed on the inside too. And my family changed. My husband and son changed. After my diagnosis, Doug, Matthew and I made a decision: we were no longer going to sweat the small stuff. We were going to love and appreciate each other every day. If the lawn didn't get mowed, so what? If little things around the house didn't get done, it didn't matter. At the end of the day, we had each other. And that was all (and is all) that matters.
Please join me in participating in the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5K Walk on October 25. Teams are forming now. For more information, log on to www.cancer.org/ stridesonline.
Mt. Vernon, Ohio
The couple has been racing for 34 years. But that day at Edgewater, Kathy and Ray saw something they had never seen before: "My hair was falling out during the race." Her husband was shocked and worried.
It was 2003, and Stover had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. "I have no family history of cancer. A lump was found during a routine mammogram." She had a lumpectomy. After surgery she had four sessions of chemotherapy and seven-and-a-half weeks of radiation treatment.
Stover is tough, has been around racecars for decades, and didn't want to let her cancer treatment obstruct the racing she and her husband shared and loved. But after he saw her hair falling out during the race, her husband sold the car. "The cars were always named Kathy's Clown, after the old Everlee Brothers' song," she said.
Stover's health improved and she was cancer free. But without a car, the couple had a hard time. "We experienced withdrawal," she said.
So what does a racing couple do in such a situation? "We called the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and told them that we were experiencing car withdrawal." And what does a race car organization do in this situation with this type of couple? Hire them.
"NHRA said 'come to work for us. We are part of the NHRA Division 3 certification team. In Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri, we inspect the cars before the race to make sure they are safe and legal.' We do that together. We enjoy being together and being around the races and the cars," Stover said.
Stover continued to have twice annual breast checks. Six tumors were found - all benign. Then in May of this year, doctors told her that they once again found cancer. On June 29, Stover had a bilateral mastectomy. "I thought, I'm done. I felt like I was removing something that was a threat to me."
Stover and her husband continue to travel to race tracks. But Stover also is a cancer leader. She led the effort at her company, Rolls Royce Energy Systems, which raised $51,000 in 2009 for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life of Mt. Vernon.
"I remain positive," she said. "Life still has a lot to offer. Having cancer was a positive in my life as I look back on it. It really sets your priorities."
"When I was diagnosed, my twins Erin and Ryan were in first grade. My daughter Laura was in eighth grade." Queen, afraid for her life and the future of her family, wondered about her children: "Would I be around for them? How would they cope with seeing me go through all of this?"
After the biopsy, Queen had surgery to remove the lump in her breast. She then underwent four courses of chemotherapy and 35 radiation treatments. As an oncology nurse, Queen had seen others go through treatment. And she had seen her father lose his battle in 1994 with stomach cancer. Her mother was a thyroid cancer survivor. But now the nurse had become the patient.
"At first I had a little bit of anger. I've done all this and I end up getting cancer? When I looked at it, I was like, 'why me?' But the more I thought about it, I began thinking, 'why not me?' "
Queen grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania and said that she had always wanted to help people. Naturally, "I gravitated toward nursing." In 1982, Queen became an oncology nurse. She moved to central Ohio in 1988 to work in the Ohio State University Medical Center's bone marrow transplant department. She was among the first team of nurses to work in the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital when it opened a few years later. In the mid 90s, Queen moved to the Fairfield Medical Center where she helped establish the cancer clinical trial program.
As a cancer patient, Queen received her chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the medical facility where she worked. And as a survivor, she has returned to Fairfield Medical to continue helping families facing cancer. But she is doing more than that.
As a volunteer for the American Cancer Society, Queen serves as the chair of the Society's Fairfield County Advisory Board; she served from 2003-08 as the head of the Relay For Life of Lancaster, helping raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight cancer. And as a Reach to Recovery volunteer, she continues to help new central Ohio breast cancer patients cope with the emotional turmoil of their diagnosis.
"I can help them with feelings because I've been there. I am a hopeful face. I tell them, you should never feel like you are alone." Reach to Recovery is a Society program that pairs breast cancer survivors with newly-diagnosed breast cancer patients.
For her job and with the Society, Queen continually comes into contact with new cancer patients. And she recognizes the fear and worry she sees in their eyes. She saw that anxiety in her own eyes.
When her hair fell out during chemotherapy and then grew back curly, Queen said that she didn't recognize herself in the mirror. Her hair has returned to normal. "Now I recognize myself," she said.
And many in central Ohio recognize Queen as well - as a nurse, as a breast cancer survivor, and as a local leader in the fight to end cancer.
For more information on the American Cancer Society, call (800) ACS-2345, or log on to www.cancer.org. Prevention
The American Cancer Society recommends that all women start having yearly mammograms at age 40. Mammograms can identify breast cancer at an early, treatable stage, usually before physical symptoms develop. Studies show that early detection saves lives and increases treatment options.
In addition to mammography, the American Cancer Society now recommends a yearly MRI scan for women at an exceptionally high risk of developing breast cancer. This includes women with:
BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation first-degree relative with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation a history of radiation therapy to the chest as a child or young adult (ages 10 to 30) 20- to 25 percent lifetime risk of breast cancer (determined mainly by family history). Exercise and eating right Dietary choices and physical activity are some of the most important choices you make to reduce your cancer risk. Mom was right: eating fruits and vegetables keeps you healthy.
Nutritional factors account for about one-third of U.S. cancer deaths, yet 79 percent of Ohioans reported eating fewer than the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. And 51 percent of Americans reported that they failed to get recommended physical activity.
Obesity also may increase cancer risk. In 2007, 35 percent of Ohioans were clinically overweight and another 28 percent were clinically obese.
The American Cancer Society recommendations:
Maintain a healthy weight throughout life Consume a healthy diet, emphasizing plant sources Eat 5+ servings of fruits and veggies per day Choose whole grains over refined grains and sugars Limit red meat Limit alcohol
Adopt a physically active lifestyle
Adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity five or more days per week Forty-five to 60 minutes of intentional physical activity five or more days per week may further reduce breast and colon cancer risks
Take community action
Help increase healthy foods in schools Help increase access to safe environments for physical activity Tobacco use
Smoking accounts for an estimated 30 percent of all cancer deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that 8.6 million Americans have at least one chronic disease caused by smoking. Smoking remains the most preventable cause of death in our society. According to 1997-2001 data, tobacco is the cause of an estimated 438,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. In 2007, 24 percent of Ohio men and 22 percent of Ohio women reported being a current smoker.
Facts and figures
Annual clinical breast exams by a doctor or nurse, monthly self-breast examinations, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for women at high lifetime risk are additional ways to detect breast cancer.
More than 182,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected in the United States in 2009. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women. In addition, nearly 68,000 new cases of in situ breast cancer (noninvasive cancer cells in the milk ducts) among American women in 2009.
Breast cancer is the most common reportable cancer among Ohio women, regardless of race. Breast cancer accounts for 29 percent of all cancers diagnosed in women. An estimated more than 8,000 new cases of female breast cancer will be diagnosed annually in Ohio.
Nearly 2,000 new cases of male breast cancer nationally and more than 60 in Ohio are expected to be diagnosed annually.
An estimated more than 40,000 women will die of breast cancer annually in the United States, including 1,900 in Ohio. Breast cancer ranks second in cancer deaths among women, behind lung cancer.
Survivorship rates increase the earlier a breast cancer is found.
The five-year relative survival probability for localized breast cancer is around 98 percent. But if the cancer had spread regionally, the probability was 84 percent, and for women with distant metastases the probability was only 27 percent.
In Ohio from 2001-2005, 68 percent of breast cancers among women were diagnosed early. In order to improve the odds of survival, early detection through mammography screening provides the best chance of discovering breast cancer at an early stage.
For more information, contact the American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345, or www.cancer.org.
SOURCE: Information provided by the American Cancer Society.
Who's at risk
Non-modifiable risk factors
Gender: Breast cancer is 100 times more common among women than men. Age: Ninety-five percent of breast cancers occur in women age 40 and older. Genetics: About 5- to 10 percent of cases are hereditary and result from gene mutations, most commonly mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Family history: Having one or more first-degree relatives (mother, sister, or daughter) diagnosed with breast cancer approximately doubles risk. Personal history: Women with cancer in one breast, high breast tissue density, or biopsy-confirmed hyperplasia (abnormal cell proliferation) have increased risk of developing a new breast cancer. Race: White women are slightly more likely to develop breast cancer than are African American women, but African American women are more likely to die of this cancer, due in part to more aggressive tumors among African American women. Ethnicity: Ashkenazi Jews are at increased risk due to increased prevalence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations. Previous breast radiation: Women who as children or young adults had radiation therapy to the chest area as treatment for another cancer (such as Hodgkin's lymphoma or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma) or other medical condition have a significantly increased risk. Long menstrual history: Women who started menstruating before age 12 or who went through menopause after 55 have a slightly higher risk. Diethylstilbestrol (DES): Women whose mothers were given DES during pregnancy have a slightly increased risk.
Modifiable risk factors
Not having children: Women who have had no children or who had their first child after age 30 have a slightly higher risk. Oral contraceptive use: Women who currently use oral contraceptives have a slightly increased risk compared with women who stopped using them more than 10 years ago or never used them. Post-menopausal hormone therapy (PHT): Long-term use (several years) of PHT (especially combined estrogen and progestin therapy) is associated with increased risk. Not breastfeeding: Women who have never nursed or who have nursed less than 1.5 years have a slightly increased risk compared to mothers who nursed 1.5 to 2 years. Overweight/obesity and high fat diet: Overweight/obese women and those who consume a high fat diet have an increased risk, especially after menopause. Alcohol: Women who drink one alcoholic beverage per day have a slightly increased risk. Women who drink 2-5 alcoholic beverages daily have 1.5 times the risk of a nondrinker. Physical inactivity: Those who do not engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity in addition to usual activity on five or more days a week have higher risk than those who do. Although a specific cause is unknown, several risk factors may contribute to the development of breast cancer. Nearly all breast cancers can be treated successfully if detected early. An annual mammogram beginning at age 40 is the most effective way to detect breast cancer at an early, curable stage. After 20 years of working as an oncology nurse, June Queen was about to be thrown into the world of cancer - this time as a patient.