Ginny Brown of Cordova has made sure to have her annual mammograms faithfully. She does self-exams but, like many women, she finds it difficult to tell the difference between troubling lumps and normal variations in density of breast tissue. For her, mammograms are particularly important.
A needle biopsy revealed that she had cancer. She recalls getting the diagnosis on the day of the Mid-South’s partial solar eclipse, Aug. 21, 2017, because while she was waiting she saw people out in the parking lot, looking up.
The diagnosis was a surprise because neither her mother nor any of her five sisters have had breast cancer.
“The good Lord has taken care of me through this whole ordeal, I have to say,” she said. “That’s been my thing – I have to rely on him.”
Brown had several more tests, learned what type of breast cancer it was and opted for a lumpectomy two or three weeks later. Her cancer had not spread yet, but it was a fast-growing type.
One or two weeks after that first surgery, she got a call that she needed further surgery. The initial lumpectomy had not removed all the cancer. Tests after the second surgery showed it was successful in getting all the cancer.
After her surgeries, she had four weeks of daily radiation. It’s hard on the body and she was sometimes sick, but Brown still counts herself lucky that she didn’t need to have chemotherapy too.
She wasn’t expecting the scary visuals that can come with radiation. Although she tolerated the therapy fairly well, her breast broke out into big red blisters, and the skin across her breast and under her arm turned black like it was burned.
“But it goes away,” she said. “The doctor would give me creams to put on it, and I would do that and take care of it.”
Although today she advises people to be open about their illnesses and accept help, she kept quiet about her own cancer diagnosis until after she finished radiation, not wanting people to look at her differently. Family helped her through the most difficult days of treatment and recovery.
“My daughter was my support system, and she took care of me, took me to the hospital and did everything for me,” Brown said.
When radiation was over, she posted her “graduation certificate” on Facebook, and that’s when most people learned of her diagnosis.
Brown has been retired for several years, and cancer wasn’t her only challenge, either. She was already coping with lingering pain from a broken back that happened during a move. She’s only human, and she found it hard not to wonder what she did to deserve both health challenges, especially cancer.
“It’s such a traumatic experience for anyone,” she said. “… But I was one of the lucky ones. They caught mine at an early stage.”
Breast cancer hit her hard emotionally, she said. She would walk into a room and start crying, and she still gets emotional.
“It’s just something that you can’t do anything about it,” Brown said. “You just have to pray that you have good surgeons, good people that are there to take care of you with the high technology we have today. It makes it wonderful. I’m just so thankful that I’m at a time where we do have this technology so that they can take care of it.”
She finds it comforting that, with early detection, many people can survive breast cancer.
Her follow-up mammogram in June showed she was clear of cancer in that breast. She has another scheduled for both breasts this month. “And hopefully I’ll get a good report,” she said.
This summer, she weaned herself off the pain medication for her damaged back and started water aerobics, helping herself mentally and physically.
Surviving cancer has changed her, Brown said. “It’s made me appreciate what we have today, and the technology we have, and the beautiful world that we live in, because I think it’s wonderful. Nobody wants to die, I don’t think. And no one wants to go through cancer. No one wants to go through cancer. No one wants to have the after-effects of surgery and the different things that we have. No one wants that. And I just pray that someday we get to the point where no one has it.”
She hopes to see a cure for this disease. “It’s just something that we all have to pray and work for, and contribute and do things that we can do to help so that they are able to find a cure for cancer so other people don’t have to suffer.”
Although a private person, Brown agreed to talk about her breast cancer survival story in hopes it helps others.
She said, “It’s something that’s hard to talk about, but it’s also good to talk it about if it helps someone else. If it saves their life, if one person that reads it says, ‘You know, I really should go have a mammogram’ and they get it and it saves their life, that would be my goal. To get people to watch their body signs, know their body and do what they need to do to find out if they have anything.”