Although one big fear for cancer survivors is if their cancer will come back, who’s to say that life is over when it does?
If you’re Kathy Connor of South Bethany, who has been fighting Stage 4 breast cancer since 2006, all you can really do is go about your life and live it to the fullest.
“You just accept it. You can’t dwell on the past, and there are some things you can’t change. You just accept it and do what you have to do. Or you could sit there and think about it all the time, but I don’t think that’s a good way to go.”
Connor first received a breast cancer diagnosis in 1994, when she was 55 years old. She found a lump while turning over in bed. Her husband, a physician, examined it, and she had a mammogram and sonogram the next day. She had a biopsy and found it was intraductal carcinoma. She said her best treatment, because of the small size of her breasts, and the location of the tumor, was a modified radical mastectomy, which she had done that year at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
More than a dozen years later, in 2006, Connor said she began to have difficulty breathing. Now a resident of Delaware, she had trouble walking to the mailbox and up and down a flight of stairs. Her doctor sent her to get a chest X-ray.
“It showed my lungs were filled with fluid, and they could see lesions in my chest.”
Connor said she had five lesions in the lining of her pleura, the serous fluid that lines the lungs. Since her second diagnosis, she has undergone one form of chemotherapy or another to treat the cancer.
At the beginning of her 2006 treatment, Connor — a former nurse — went to the trouble to get all of her records from Georgetown University Hospital, before she found out that the nurses at Beebe Medical Center’s Tunnell Cancer Center would have done that for her.
“She told me, ‘I would have done that,’” recalled Connor of one nurse. “She said she was there and I could call her for anything I needed. I can’t really say enough about the Tunnell Cancer Center. At Georgetown, it was nice, but it is a hospital clinic. Beebe has more of a home-like atmosphere. You don’t feel alone or anything like that. You can tell you are not a number and people really care about you.”
She recalled having had to take classes on her medications and on her treatments during her first encounter with breast cancer in the mid-1990s.
“Before you even start chemo, you take classes on the medications. You have to go through a teaching process.” As a nurse, she said, “Truthfully, I found it scary myself, and then you have all these people that don’t know anything about the medical profession. They must be scared to death.”
She remembered one program she participated in, called “Looking Good When You are Feeling Bad,” and said it was probably one of the best things she ever did.
“They had hairdressers come out and makeup artists that helped you work with your skin and how to keep your eyebrows during chemo. They told me when my hair would fall out — and, almost to the day, they were correct. I would work during chemotherapy. I had three weeks on and one week off, and I never went out without makeup or without my wig fixed. People didn’t even realize what was going on.”
She said she took precautions by not going into large crowds or near a lot of children, because she didn’t want to get sick. “I told my doctors: I want to start 1995 off right. I had a plan. I told them, this is what I plan to do — and it worked.”
She said the prayers of her friends and family and of everyone around her have really helped, especially after her husband died and she felt alone. A mother of nine, Connor said her children and sisters came to rally around her after her diagnosis in 2006 and have helped her deal with her new challenges.
Although she had “plans” in 1994 after learning of her diagnosis, she said she has since realized she plays a small part in a bigger picture.
“In 2006, I just told God I was his, and I put everything in his hands. And since then, that’s what I have been doing, and it has really worked well for me.”
While this new cancer is inside the pleura of her lungs, it is still classified as breast cancer because it is the same cancer that was in her breast originally, Connor explained. She said the newer drugs attack the nucleus of the cancer itself and attack the hormone-positive portion of the cancer, “basically ridding your body of every piece of estrogen you have.”
So, as she stays on top of the newest drugs and treatment, Connor said one thing she can’t do is feel sorry for herself and question her situation — she just appreciates it as it is.
“When I was first diagnosed, I had two grandchildren. Now, I have 21... Yeah. I first thought God kept me alive because my husband had Parkinson’s and I could take care of him. I am just flabbergasted that I have outlived him. You know what they say: If you have a plan, God is laughing at you. He has the plan... You can’t stop living. You can accept it as part of life and either continue to use your talents, or you can feel sorry for yourself. And that’s just not acceptable. And, I have all those beautiful grandchildren to visit.”