‘You don’t have to fight alone’
County women share their experiences with breast cancer
— Every year, 70 women in Cecil County are diagnosed with breast cancer.
The women diagnosed are different ages and at many different stages of their lives. Some will beat the disease and go into remis-
sion, while others will battle breast cancer more than once.
In honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Whig spoke to three county women about their experiences with the disease. Carol Leath Carol Leath, 61, a Perryville Middle School science teacher, was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast on the first day of school this past August.
“It was really scary,” Leath said. “It was almost surreal because they called me here at school on my planning period.”
Her cancer was detected early by her annual mammogram, which she has been doing for about 20 years. Leath said both of her grandmothers were diagnosed with the cancer, but her mother was not.
Leath underwent two lumpectomies at Christiana Hospital, the first on Sept. 8 and a second surgery on Sept. 26 to remove the rest of the lump. During one of the surgeries, a lymph node was removed to make sure the cancer did not spread to the node. Thankfully, it hasn’t, she said.
Leath has had support from many different people including family, friends, coworkers and her church.
“When I was diagnosed, the first thing I thought was ‘ God, please help me get through this,’” she recalled.
Members of North East United Methodist Church, where she belongs, offered her prayers and friends asked what they could do to help, Leath said.
Leath will start her radiation treatment on Oct. 24, Monday through Friday at the Helen Graham Cancer Center. Once that treatment is completed, she will take Arimidex, a hormone blocker, for five years, she said.
“I’m nervous about what the radiation treatments are going to do to me physically,” Leath said.
Leath is also concerned about the cancer coming back and if she will pass it onto her daughter Elkton resident AnnMarie McClure is going through her second round of chemotherapy after her second diagnosis of breast cancer in mid-May.
AnnMarie McClure Elkton resident AnnMarie McClure, 46, has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice. First in 2009 and then, most recently in mid-May.
In 2009, McClure found a lump in her breast, which caused pain. She went to her gynecologist, as well as to other doctors, who said it was caused by a blocked milk ductile. A biopsy showed she had breast cancer in her left breast, she said.
“I was in shock because I was the one and only female in my family to ever have breast cancer,” McClure said.
McClure underwent a mastectomy and a reconstructive surgery at Christiana Hospital and had 12 chemotherapy treatments, which took place at Regional Hematology and Oncology in Elkton, McClure said.
Then in May, McClure was diagnosed with breast cancer again. McClure was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer that begins growing in the duct and spreads to the fatty tissue of the breast outside the duct. She said the cancer was found in the lymph nodes in her left armpit.
“It didn’t come back in the breast itself, it came back in the lymph nodes in my armpit,” McClure said. “It’s the same cells that I had in my breast the first time, that just kind of lay dormant and moved and they chose to come back in my lymph nodes on the same side.”
McClure is in the process of going through 16 rounds of chemotherapy at Regional Hematology and Oncology. She will go for her fourth round on Tuesday. The first four treatments were every other week due to the intensity of the chemotherapy while the last 12 rounds are every other week until April, depending on how her treatments go.
“I just don’t think there’s one word,” McClure said of her second diagnosis. “Anger. It’s just unrealistic to have cancer once in your lifetime with no explanation and then to get it again.”
But she said people going through cancer should not feel as if they are going through it alone.
“No one with cancer is ever alone and they should never feel alone,” McClure said. “You don’t have to fight alone because there are a lot of us (cancer patients).”
Sallie Teague Former Rising Sun mayor Sallie Teague, 80, was diagnosed with breast cancer in her right breast in 2002, after she felt a lump, she said.
Teague contacted a local surgeon, who advised her to have a mammogram performed. The same surgeon then performed a lumpectomy at Union Hospital, after she was diagnosed.
“It’s kinda scary,” Teague said of finding out about her diagnosis. “And of course, there wasn’t as much back then and today it’s really, really very scary,” she noted.
Teague underwent 35 radiation treatments for about 20 minutes per session, Monday through Friday, at Union Hospital, Teague said. Teague said she felt no adverse effects from the therapy, except tiredness.
Teague said she drove herself to her doctor’s appointments.
“I was really kind of independent,” she said.
After her treatments were completed, Teague went for two mammograms a year for 10 years, but now goes for yearly mammograms. Teague was also prescribed tamoxifen, which is used to prevent breast cancer in women and help treat the cancer, for 10 years, but no longer has to take it.
Teague credits her faith for helping for get through her diagnosis and treatments.
Teague’s church, Moore’s Chapel, prayed for her during Sunday Services during her initial diagnosis. She also attended church more and prayed more often. Teague also received support from her two daughters, who participated in Relay for Life. Her husband had passed away from leukemia in 1992.
“I feel very fortunate and then fortunately, God is good all the time,” Teague said. “To me, I don’t know how people handle crisis if they don’t have faith or religious background.” The importance of
mammograms The best way to catch breast cancer early is through annual mammograms.
Sheelagh Stewart, manager of the Breast Cancer Center at Union Hospital, said women should begin annual mammograms at the age of 40, unless a woman is high- risk. Those who are high- risk have had the cancer before or have an immediate family who was been diagnosed, such as a mother.
The hospital’s breast cancer center offers radiation and chemotherapy, as well lumpectomies, mastectomies and other ser vices, said Nancy Billion, a registered nurse at the hospital’s cancer center. Research shows that most women benefit more from a lumpectomy compared to a mastectomy and both have a similar sur vival rate, she said.
Over the years, there have been many improvements in breast cancer treatment, particularly with treatment becoming more individualized, Billon said.
Patients receive different types of treatment based on the type of breast cancer and other factors, Billon said. In the past, patients would usually have a mastectomy and high- dose radiation, but that is not the case today because it is based on the patient’s case and what is the best treatment plan for the patient, she said.
Stewart noted that women who are diagnosed early tend to have a lumpectomy with some radiation, rather than those who are diagnosed later and usually must undergo treatments such as a mastectomy, radiation or chemotherapy.
“We have people who come in every year and are good about it and when they come in and it is a breast cancer, it is a much easier path for them, usually because we’re looking at an early detection,” Stewart said.
Rising Sun resident and breast cancer survivor Sallie Teague stands in front of a Breast Cancer Awareness banner at Rising Sun Town Hall.