Jane’s Story

It seems as if my life is going along just fine. Nothing terribly interesting happening and I’m wondering if my life should be more exciting. Am I missing out on something? I look around and I wonder if all this is a bit boring…

I had my first mammogram a year and a half ago and got a clean bill of health. I started getting mammograms early because breast cancer was in my family. I heard on a talk show that it was a good idea to see an Internist rather than an OBGYN for a yearly check-up once you were no longer concerned with having babies. This seemed to make a lot of sense to me so I started asking around until I got the name of a doctor from a lady that came into the jewelry store where I worked. She said he was wonderful, so I made an appointment to see Dr. Couch the next week.

I drove to Red Oak and pulled in front of a building designated as Northwest Diagnostic Clinic. I walked into Dr. Couch’s office and was a little surprised to see so many elderly people. I wondered if I was at the right place. I went to the desk to sign in and was given the usual “new patient” form to fill out, found a seat and began writing. Eventually, I was called in by a nurse named “Jane.” That would be easy to remember. While she was weighing me and taking my blood pressure I asked her if I was at the right place for what I needed. I told her that I was especially concerned about breast cancer and so I thought I would be better off with an internist than an OBGYN. She agreed and said that “Yes, I had come to the right doctor”. She said to get undressed and that he would be in soon.

Dr. Couch came in and examined me and we talked about my concerns. He also said he enjoyed having a nice looking patient who wasn’t sick. I guess I felt that was a compliment. Dr. Couch was a good looking man. After the examination he said everything looked fine. I told him I wasn’t on any birth control, but at this stage of my life, maybe I should be. I also asked him if I should have a mammogram. He asked when my last one was. I told him about a year and a half ago. He told me it wasn’t necessary to schedule one now. He said that I shouldn’t have unnecessary radiation.

I left that day patting myself on the back for having made a good choice in a doctor and glad that I didn’t have to worry about going through “that” again for another year. That was January.

Five months later I noticed a slight change in the nipple of my right breast. It wasn’t protruding as much as the one on the left breast. Oh well, it’s probably nothing. I decided not to worry about it until after my next period. Maybe it would return to normal. Another month passed and the nipple stayed slightly inverted. I mentioned it to my husband and we both agreed it was probably nothing to worry about but it would be good to ask the doctor what he thought. I called Dr. Couch’s office in August and told his nurse about my concern and asked if maybe I should have a mammogram. She came back to the phone and told me Dr. Couch wanted me to see Dr. Phillip Sutton who I found out later was a surgeon. Dr. Sutton examined my breast and performed a “needle biopsy” there in his office which supposedly drew tissue out of the breast so that it could be examined. He also told me to get a mammogram. I did that and was sent to see a Dr. Casimir who would give me the results.

About a week later my husband accompanied me to Dr. Casimir’s office. This made the fourth doctor I had seen, three in the last three weeks. When Dr. Casimir came in she started explaining to Ed and me that the tumor was very large and that it was stage III breast cancer. Both Ed and I had the same reaction…What! …what do you mean? She looked at us both and said, “You mean no one told you that you have cancer?”

No, no one had mentioned that word in any of my doctor visits. I felt as if I had just been hit by a Mack truck. I really don’t think I heard a word she said after “cancer.” Thank God Ed was there to absorb what she was saying and to assist me back to the car.

Breast cancer was not something I was unfamiliar with. I knew breast cancer. My mother had breast cancer. I hated breast cancer. Breast cancer was something you didn’t talk about, at least not in my family.

She was 45, my mother, when she found out she had breast cancer. She had a radical mastectomy. They removed her breasts and scooped out large areas of both arm pits. We children were only allowed to see her five minutes in the hospital and she was crying. There was no reconstruction or chemo-therapy offered. When she came home she was very sad and we never spoke of it again.

Now it’s me. Damn, how did this happen? I’m 40-years-old and in great shape. I exercise all the time, don’t drink much or smoke and eat a healthy diet. Where the hell does this come from? How can I have stage III breast cancer and be given only a 30% chance to live more than 5 years? I can’t handle this! I ask for a second opinion and then a third and a fourth opinion, hoping for a different answer. Nothing changes. The diagnosis remains the same.

My husband and I spend the next week talking to doctors about how to proceed. One suggests immediate surgery. Another, chemo for three months and then surgery. I am told I have to make the decision. Me? Why should I decide? What do I know? I’m not the one that went to medical school. I’ve never done surgery. I don’t want to decide because I don’t want any of this to be real.

It is real, and I decide to have chemo first to shrink the tumor and then the surgery. In the next three months I have a porto-catheter put in my chest so that my veins don’t collapse when the needle with the chemo medicine is inserted twice a month. I lose my hair after two treatments. My mother tells me I have a beautifully-shaped head. I know she is trying to help. I think this is the worst compliment I have ever heard. I worry constantly that the cancer will spread. I no longer trust my body, even when I feel well. I don’t know what to say to my daughters. I tell them “everything will be fine.” None of us really believes that.

After Thanksgiving, I have the surgery to remove the tumor and my breasts. I remember waking up in ICU with the nurse leaning over me and telling me” there was no lymph node involvement.” This was good news, the cancer had not spread. I grab onto this Hope for dear life.

The surgery and the reconstruction are over. The recuperation is slow and I have five more rounds of chemotherapy. I can get through this.

Now, a year has passed since I was first told I had breast cancer. My hair is starting to grow back. It’s curly and I decide to dye it blond. My follow up tests are all negative. Finally, the fear is loosening its grip on me. I walk outside to the front yard and looking around I see there is not much going on. I smile and think to myself “what a beautiful boring day this is.”

Well, that’s my story and it’s now almost 20 years hence. I have remained healthy and I continue with my work at Jane L. Parker Interior Designs. I have spent a great deal of those 20 years fighting for breast health awareness and for breast cancer research. I have actively lobbied in Washington for additional funding for breast cancer research and testified before State Senate committees on a variety of issues related to breast cancer.

In 1990, in the first year of its existence, I joined the Houston Affiliate of what is now Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I served as its president from 1996 to 1998. I chaired its Race for the Cure in 1994. I chaired its first Pink Tie Gala in 2005. I am currently a member of its Advisory Council. I also serve on the Advisory Council for the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor College of Medicine. In 2002, I chaired the first Pink Ribbon House benefiting the Center and in 2007 I chaired the Center’s first Chicks with Checks luncheon. I recently co-chaired the Neiman Marcus Stiletto Strut to fund cancer research at the Smith Breast Center.

My name is Jane L. Parker and I am a 20-year survivor of stage III breast cancer.

Category: Faces of Cancer