|Jan Grose at her home in Jerome Township
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The following is a guest column by Jan Grose, a breast cancer survivor who lives in Jerome Township north of Plain City. Following the column is an interview with Jan, as well as facts about breast cancer from the American Cancer Society.
Sometimes you just have to cry. Like the day in November three years ago when I answered a phone call from the doctor. I breathed a sigh of relief when he asked whether it was a good time to talk. I assumed that he wouldn’t call me at the office if he had bad news about my recent biopsy. Wrong. I struggled to focus as he explained the next steps in the treatment of breast cancer. All I really wanted to do was bolt from my cubicle, get home and cry a good one. I drove in a daze to my daughter Kristen’s home and, together, we shed tears. Believe me, there were lots of tears over the next few months.
But I learned that a meltdown isn’t always the best therapy. As my daughter Lori says, attitude affects outcome. That lesson came home in a hospital waiting room. A gentleman in his early 60s sat across the room from me. He looked dejected, sad and beaten down by his illness. A tube ran out the waistband of his pajamas and into a barely concealed bag fastened at his side. His wife, a smartly dress woman sat at his side, making small talk, helping as best she could to distract him, but he wasn’t paying much attention.
At last his name was called. His gray head bent down, he shuffled along behind the nurse. To my amazement, when he returned a half-hour later, he was walking upright, almost briskly. His head was high, his face was lit. Whatever it was he got back there, I wanted some. My surprise must have been obvious for he came straight to me. Even though earlier he hadn’t so much as looked up from his lap, now he was eager to tell me that he’d been through many setbacks but now the tests showed he was getting better. No medical breakthrough, just an adjustment in attitude.
Another lesson I had to learn was that I couldn’t get through this disease on my own. Much to my husband’s dismay, I’m a fiercely independent person. I climb on stools to reach things and lift loads that are too heavy. Cancer taught me that sometimes you have to lean on others. Like the day the doctor once more called me at work. I’m a slow learner, I guess, because even when he asked whether it was a good time to talk, it didn’t occur to me that there would be more bad news. I went cold as he told me that subsequent tests showed a suspicious area in the other breast and that it would need further investigation.
As before, I just wanted to get out of the office quickly so I could spill more tears. As I look back, I know imagine that while I was shutting down my computer, God was nudging St. Peter and saying, "Watch this." I flew down the stairs, slipped into the car, turned on the ignition and got only a click. No matter how many times I tried and no matter how hard I pounded the steering wheel, still just a click. I swallowed hard, pushed down my emotions, and walked back to the office to ask a co-worker for help, not letting on why I was leaving in the middle of the afternoon. In spite of their best efforts, none of the five guys who soon gathered could get the car started. So, I had to call for a tow and, still stifling tears, rode with a tow driver to the Tuffy Muffler in Hilliard.
The co-worked who advised that I would be treated honestly at Tuffy didn’t warn me that I’d be greeted by a Biker Dude. Tall, muscled, bald and clad in black, he took charge as he and two others bent over the engine. I watched from behind a window as they tinkered and argued and threw their hands up in frustration. Occasionally, one of the other men slapped Biker Dude on the head and they’d explode in laughter. As they worked on the car for two hours, I continued to push the doctor’s call from my mind and refused to let my emotions surface. As I handed Biker Dude my credit card, he asked straight-faced whether a thousand dollars would exceed my limit. I scanned the invoice for the total which, in fact, was only $19.95. My confused look brought a sly smile from him, pleased with his joke on me. I returned his smile.
God was still watching and this is probably when He told St. Peter that I’d learned my lesson. I would not be able to get through my cancer alone. I would need help from a wide circle of people—not just my family and friends, but strangers as well. Co-workers and mechanics, nurses and technicians, doctors and radiologists.
Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are all behind me, and I rarely think about the medical treatments. More often, I recall the people, the angels disguised as biker dudes and dejected men, who had life lessons to teach me.
Interview with Jan Grose
By Kristy Zurbrick
Jan Grose is a petite person with a larger-than-life positive attitude. She’s also a breast cancer survivor.
The Jerome Township resident got her diagnosis three years ago following a routine mammogram.
“You think, ‘Nothing can happen to me. This happens to other people.’ When it does happen to you, you become vulnerable,” she said.
A biopsy showed that while the calcifications in her right breast were benign, the palpable lump in her left breast was malignant. With the help of friends, family and strangers, Grose got through the lumpectomy and the seven weeks of chemotherapy (six days a week) that followed.
She has been cancer-free since May 2006 and can’t emphasize enough the importance of getting those routine mammograms.
“My cancer was detected at Stage 1. Because it was caught early, they did a lumpectomy and there was no lymph node involvement,” Grose said.
Her words of advice to other women are: “Don’t make the diagnosis yourself that you’re OK. If you see something or suspect something, ask your doctor.”
Grose continues to see her doctor every three months and takes a drug that suppresses her body’s estrogen production.
“The cancer was fed by estrogen. Even though I’m post-menopausal, we wanted no estrogen production,” she explained.
Grose also gets a mammogram every six months to monitor for recurrence of the cancer. All of the follow-ups have been clear.
“It’s not the Big C anymore. It used to be you could not even say ‘cancer’ because it was a death sentence, and that’s not true anymore,” she said.
About Breast Cancer
(Source: American Cancer Society. For more information, go to www.cancer.org.)
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, other than skin cancer. It is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, after lung cancer.
About 182,460 women in the United States will be found to have invasive breast cancer in 2008. About 40,480 women will die from the disease this year. Right now there are about two and a half million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
The chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer some time during her life is about 1 in 8. The chance of dying from breast cancer is about 1 in 35. Breast cancer death rates are going down. This is probably the result of finding the cancer earlier and improved treatment.
The American Cancer Society recommends the following guidelines for finding breast cancer early in women without symptoms:
• Mammogram: Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. While mammograms can miss some cancers, they are still a very good way to find breast cancer.
• Clinical breast exam: Women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam (CBE) as part of a regular exam by a health expert, at least every three years. After age 40, women should have a breast exam by a health expert every year. It might be a good idea to have the CBE shortly before the mammogram. You can use the exam to learn what your own breasts feel like.
• Breast self-exam (BSE): BSE is an option for women starting in their 20s. Women should be told about the benefits and limitations of BSE. Women should report any changes in how their breasts look or feel to their health professional right away.
Research has shown that BSE plays a small role in finding breast cancer compared with finding a breast lump by chance or simply being aware of what is normal for each woman. If you decide to do BSE, you should have your doctor or nurse check your method to make sure you are doing it right. If you do BSE on a regular basis, you get to know how your breasts normally look and feel. Then you can more easily notice changes. But it’s OK not to do BSE or not to do it on a fixed schedule.
The goal, with or without BSE, is to see your doctor right away if you notice any of these changes: a lump or swelling, skin irritation or dimpling, nipple pain or the nipple turning inward, redness or scaliness of the nipple or breast skin, or a discharge other than breast milk. But remember that most of the time these breast changes are not cancer.
• Women at high risk: Women with a higher risk of breast cancer should talk with their doctor about the best approach for them. This might mean starting mammograms when they are younger, having extra screening tests, or having more frequent exams.