Thinking pink – and about breast cancer
Betsy Ford is a poster-child for healthy women everywhere. Her weight is right on. She’s active, exercises regularly, has good cholesterol levels, and a comfortable blood pressure. She says she rarely gets sick. Except for that whole breast cancer thing.It was just a few months ago that Ford, a 49-year-old mother of three and a teacher at Truckee Elementary, found the lump. Within a week of discovering it, the ball of cells was successfully removed from her body – along with her breast.”I acted very quickly. I saw my doctor within four days of finding the lump, had a mammogram and an ultra sound three days after that, and said ‘get it out of here’. I didn’t even take the time to inquire with a plastic surgeon,” she said. “Because of the tumor’s location and the size of my breast, it just didn’t make sense to have a partial mastectomy (called a lumpectomy), so I just had them take it all, and now my surgeon will have a more uniform surface to work with.”Ford is surprisingly upbeat and optimistic as she tells the story of her disease and her up-coming reconstructive surgery.”Some women could not bear the experience of seeing themselves without a breast, but for me, losing my hair was 100 times worse,” she said. “Sometimes my shadow startles me because I think there is a bald man in my kitchen.”Ford said good bye to her breast and then to her brunette locks as weeks of chemotherapy served to kill any remaining cancer cells. Because the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes, Ford thought she could avoid the treatment, but she learned that without the extra step the chance of reoccurrence remained at a disconcerting 40 percent. “My body handled it very well, but my biggest complaint was the fatigue,” she said. “It was a rude awakening. There were days where I couldn’t do anything. I went to sweep the kitchen floor and was breathing so heavy I had to stop. “But I’m back, and I’m here.”Since the first detection in February, Ford has been on an all-out roller-coaster ride of emotions, tests, and medicines. But through the doctors visits, the therapy sessions and the nights spent lying awake, she said that she never felt as though she wouldn’t win the battle. “I’ve never thought of it as a forever thing, though it has been by far the ugliest thing I have been through,” she said. “There are teachable moments in all of it. I let a lot go and let people do for me. It’s not hard to be grateful, but it’s hard to accept so much help when you fell like you’re OK.”Since her last chemotherapy treatment four weeks ago, Ford’s hair has begun to sprout, and while she’s not quite ready to face the world in a bandana, she says the wig she has been sporting is beginning to lose its appeal. Slowly but surely, she’s making her comeback. “I laugh because my students don’t know it’s not my real hair, and people are telling me all the time what a great cut I have,” she said. Until her new breast is created in November, Ford will keep stuffing her bra. And for a while longer her food will continue to taste like metal, a side-effect of the radiation. But other than those pesky side-notes, Ford said she is feeling healthy and positive. “I was lucky that I caught it early; it was ugly but it wasn’t bad,” she said. “And for God’s sakes do your self-exams. If I hadn’t found [the lump] who knows how far it could have gotten. I am so lucky and so thankful.”
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