By Martha Phillips – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

I haven’t written a column in a while and now feel like it’s time to update! As I sit still long enough to contemplate everything, I realize this will require several columns to cover.

In case you missed my first few columns back in October, I was diagnosed July 30, 2021 with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Grade 3, which means aggressive breast cancer. I chose a double mastectomy and will later do multiple surgeries for breast reconstruction. Aggressive cancer requires aggressive treatment. So, after surgery I did 16 chemo treatments and 28 radiation treatments.

I finished chemo back in February and rang that bell! I really did pretty well thru chemo and don’t feel like I suffered during that time. However, it really is an ordeal to feel tied down to that chair first every other week then weekly. Having a chemo port placed in my chest and then removed later has probably given me some PTSD about needles, pain, and lidocaine! The double mastectomy wasn’t a cake walk either. For chemo treatment itself, they give you lidocaine cream to put over that port an hour before chemo treatment, I only forgot to do it once!! Trust me you don’t forget twice. I purposely did not look at the needle they put in the port for treatment until they removed it at my last treatment and all I can say is that was a great choice.

I had a few minor side effects, but the only big one was losing my hair. I had decided early on that I was going to rock a bald head and accessorize with cute earrings and that’s what I did! Denell Flores, who not only diagnosed my cancer but gave me a road map to navigate this journey, advised me to start cutting my long hair before it started falling out and I cried each time I had it cut. When I hear the stories of other women and how they navigated this journey, I thank God for Denell! She has cried with me, hugged me and encouraged me every step of the way. I will forever be grateful.

I’ve never been big on joining women’s groups or been interested in women’s lib or the feminist movement or any other group that say you should feel or think a certain way because you are a woman. I’ve always tried to blend my independent personality and value of being a traditional wife and mother together and make my life choices based on my Catholic faith.

But this breast cancer journey has made me appreciate every single woman that has gone before me in this battle! Every single one of them have paved this journey with their own blood and tears and many with their very lives. These women have made my battle one that I can win!

I doubt seriously you could talk to a single person that has not be affected by breast cancer in some way and it’s amazing how much we as a community come together for those behind us in this journey. I will never forget all the women from my church family who approached with a loving and knowing smile and  a hug and told me I will make it! Many of them are 10, 15, 20 years cancer free. I felt very loved by these women.

Many other women encouraged me too. While shopping at H-E-B, I had a lady turn to me and say “Been there, done that! You look great bald!” I’ve had several men approach me too, many of them bald and they just knowingly smile and say “I love your haircut!” I’d laugh and thank them because I knew it came from a genuine place of love and compassion.

I think one of the best things that has happened for women diagnosed with breast cancer over the last 20 years is the growing understanding that while we are all female, our breast cancer journey is very individual. From the type of cancer and treatment to how we mentally and emotionally process the overload of information, tests and medical appointments.

This has been a tough journey and I’m still not finished, but I’m choosing to share it in hopes to encourage others on the journey behind me, it’s what gives my journey meaning. It’s paying forward.

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