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Survivors

Posted October 08, 2014 in Des Moines West
Rosemary Randolph was diagnosed with breast cancer when it was discovered during a routine mammogram. She is an advocate for early mammograms for women and credits hers with saving her life. Phtoto by Melissa Walker.

Rosemary Randolph was diagnosed with breast cancer when it was discovered during a routine mammogram. She is an advocate for early mammograms for women and credits hers with saving her life. Phtoto by Melissa Walker.

Rosemary Randolph thought she was in the clear when she went in for a routine mammogram.

She called the doctor’s office for her results right before a holiday weekend and was told everything looked good. The news was short-lived.

“The doctor called back and said they had made a mistake,” Randolph recalls. “I did have breast cancer. It was a shock to hear those words.”

Although she was shocked, Randolph says she was surprised by how she handled the situation. She had imagined she would fall apart if she had ever received a cancer diagnosis.

“I thought if I ever hear the words ‘I have cancer,’ I don’t know what I’ll do,” she recalls. When I finally heard those words, it was like ‘What do I do; what do I do next?’ I didn’t react how I thought I would. I never said: ‘Why me?’ ”

Randolph, who was 57 at the time, was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. Her lump was so small that it couldn’t be felt and was only discovered through a mammogram, which is why she is a big proponent of early mammograms.

“This was so small even the doctor couldn’t feel it,” she says.

Randolph chose to have a lumpectomy followed by radiation. She had some swelling in her arm, which she had feared was lymphedema, a build-up of fluid in the tissue because of a blockage in the lymphatic system. Randolph had some of her lymph nodes removed as part of her surgery to remove the cancer.

After the surgery, Randolph had radiation every day for six weeks. She says she had slight burning at the site where the radiation was, but she was lucky compared to many women. She took tamoxifen, a drug designed to prevent cancer from returning, for five years, followed by another drug for five more years to be extra cautious the cancer didn’t return.

Life events, circle of friends help distract woman, give support
Although she prayed a lot about fighting the cancer and getting through it, in the end it was the fact that she also was going through a divorce at the time that helped to distract her from what was happening to her physically.

“I just kind of went through life,” Randolph recalls. “I don’t know if it was meant to be that I was distracted from the cancer because of my divorce.”

Randolph says she received the most support from her circle of close friends and found comfort from her Christian faith.

And she remained positive, even when she saw the side effects of cancer at its worst while at appointments with her cancer doctor or at the treatment center. For six weeks she saw people in different stages of their cancer battle. Some faded; others grew stronger. Some were pushed out in wheelchairs; others smiled and walked out on their own.

“Every day I would walk out of there and say ‘Thank you, God. I’m walking out of here and I’m smiling,’ ” Randolph recalls. “You know there are people who are worse off than you. It smacks you right in the face when you’re there.”

She had lost friends from breast cancer before, so she knew how bad the disease could be. From her own experience, Randolph is a big advocate of early mammograms, which she credits with saving her life.

“It’s important to surround yourself with positive people, with people you trust, with family,” she says, adding that she knew she had to have strength to face cancer head on. “I just did it, and I walked that path. You just have to have your faith and have a very positive attitude. I think the more positive you are, the better the outcome. If you pity and woebegone the worse, it’s going to be on you.”

That doesn’t mean all her days are good. When Randolph had tears, she says the nurses — whom she describes as little guardian angels — talked her through the tough times.

Discovery of lump forces west-side woman to change plan in life
Paula Peterson had purchased a new home in Costa Rica about six years ago when she felt a lump in the side of her breast under her armpit area.

She pushed the discovery aside because she had found a previous one about 20 years earlier.

“I thought ‘It’s nothing. I’m really busy with this move,’ ” Peterson recalls.

As she made the transition to get furniture and other items for her new home, she realized a month later that the lump was still there. The first one had gone away.

“I thought ‘Oh, I just can’t ignore this,’ ” she says.

Peterson received a mammogram and says she had a feeling of the results before she received the cancer diagnosis. Initially, she was told she could get dressed and would receive the results in two weeks. But a few minutes later, she was informed she likely had cancer. A biopsy was performed that same day, and her family doctor called her shortly thereafter with the results.

Peterson says she handled the news a little more “matter-of-fact” than some women might have because she had been a nurse and had worked in the mental health field.

“It was still really hard to hear,” she recalls.

She was told she needed surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. She had the choice between a lumpectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy, or a mastectomy. She was relieved to learn she had options.

“I was prepared to have to get a mastectomy,” Peterson recalls. “When they told me I had options and the follow-up treatment was the same, that was really good news. I thought ‘Why would anyone go through the mastectomy?’ ”

She opted to wait until after Christmas and had a lumpectomy in January 2009. She says she remembers asking the doctor the day of her surgery whether it was too late to run away. She had to sell the Costa Rica house and abandon that dream. She says she knew what the future held with radiation and weekly chemotherapy for one year after surgery.

“I was sick as a dog for a while,” Peterson recalls. “I was as sick as you can get, and I’m as healthy as can be right now.”

Peterson has been in remission for five years. She’s still apprehensive every time she goes to the doctor for follow-up appointments and mammograms.

“It’s always scary because you have to brace yourself,” Peterson says.

Paula Peterson says working in her store, Que Sera, helped pull her out of bad days when she was feeling ill from chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Peterson has been cancer free for about five years and says she wants women who are battling breast cancer to know that they will regain their life. Photo by Melissa Walker.

Paula Peterson says working in her store, Que Sera, helped pull her out of bad days when she was feeling ill from chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Peterson has been cancer free for about five years and says she wants women who are battling breast cancer to know that they will regain their life. Photo by Melissa Walker.

She still attends cancer support groups to give back and to show current cancer patients they can get back to their lives and that eventually cancer will not consume everything. Surrounding herself with positive people and hearing the stories of survivors who had reclaimed their lives was an inspiration to her.

She understands the mindset struggles. She thought of nothing but cancer for 1.5 years.

“You can’t help but get identified as a sick person, because you are,” Peterson says. “The cancer becomes all-consuming, and it feels like doctors’ appointments and treatments are all you’re doing, but it doesn’t stay that way.”

Peterson also has attended a cancer seminar in Chicago, where she met other women who were in various stages of breast cancer and other survivors. She was asked to share her story through a video.

She acknowledges that some women don’t win the battle, but life returned for her. She travels extensively and hauls around furniture for her business, things that she didn’t think would be possible while she was recovering from cancer and receiving treatment.

One of the biggest activities that helped Peterson was keeping involved in the daily operation of her store in Valley Junction. Even on days when she was tired, she would sit in bed, put on her makeup and go into the shop to work a half day — anything that would help her be out and surrounded by people. She has many repeat customers, and she found comfort from them.

“People were always coming in and bringing me little gifts and wanting to know how I was doing,” she recalls.





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