I walked in honor of my grandmother and aunt, two beautiful survivors; Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 5k Walk, Fox59 team, Indianapolis, October 20.
An email from my aunt, JoAnn Forster…
I was 39 years old, no history of breast cancer in my family, a mother of a 13-year-old, single, committed to exercise and healthy eating, and my life was about to forever change. I had my yearly gynecological and breast exam two weeks before. I had no issues or concerns. My Doctor went thru the motions, and I happily breezed out of the office after having been pronounced healthy and good to go. Two weeks later I was doing a self-breast exam in the shower and felt something that sent an immediate rush of fear to my brain…. Fear, to no worries, to fear, to denial, to fast forward to what if, to fear, and to death.
I have always been very sensitive to my body and never had the comfort of youth of feeling invincible. Quite the contrary. Some of my earliest memories are warnings of vulnerability, and they have stayed with me, as I grow older.
I called my Doctor’s office and requested an appointment and was adamant that I did not want to wait for weeks. I saw him a few days later, and I was escorted to his office, not an exam room. I told him I felt a small lump in my breast. He smiled and assured me that he had done a thorough breast exam. I assured him in my normal, calm, assertive way that my 39 years of knowing my body and feeling this lump was worth his attention. He stood up and walked to me and asked me if he could he could feel it. To my shock, he did a quick exam over my clothes and once again assured me of my good health. I asked him for a proper exam, which he did. He said he felt nothing and tried very hard to be accommodating and caring. I told him that even if he could not feel it, I knew something was there, and I wanted to do all I could do to find out what was happening in my body. He reluctantly agreed to order a mammogram.
I owe so much to the young doctor who listened to me, even after the mammogram did not detect any growth. She would not give up, and to this day, she uses my case to demonstrate to her students the smallest tumor any patient found and was not initially detected thru standard tests. I had Stage 1 intraductal breast cancer in one breast. I opted for a mastectomy on that breast, and, a year later, on a prophylactic mastectomy on the other. I knew I would never have another day of peace for my son and myself if I didn’t do all I could do.
I am 64 years old with a wonderful husband, 3 kids, 3 grandkids, family I love, a great career, and daily reminders about how blessed I am. 25 years ago I fired that gynecologist and now work very hard to only have doctors that listen, are proactive, and don’t treat me in a condescending way.
Listen to your body.
Listen to your own instincts.
The message always comes.
Don’t be afraid to fight for yourself and for your own life. You are your own best advocate. If there are times when you cannot, make sure to have someone who can be and can speak for you. Fear is not a fact.
And… I asked my grandmother if she felt lucky… looking back.
Here’s a short clip.
I remember the look on his face as he whispered the words. I remember staring intently at his lips as if I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. I gave him a quick smile. The kind of smile you give a friend after you’ve done them a favor. No need for even a pause. Then, I gave my seat belt a little tug, and it started to hit me. He had whispered the words, “you just saved my life.”
We were on our way back to the station after shooting a story at a used tire shop and waste transfer station. My idea, of course. It was a friday, and it felt like it. He was hungry and opted for fast food. I tried to convince him otherwise, but the smell coming from my vinegar cole slaw salad from Whole Foods probably didn’t help my cause in the least.
A few bites in, the car jerked and the mysterious red drink he had just taken a big gulp of went everywhere. We flew off the interstate and came to a screeching halt on the shoulder as he tried to catch his breath. I stumbled out of the car after him into the grass. Was he throwing up or choking? Our intern, who is now probably scarred for life, yelled, “give him the Heimlich,” and well, that’s what I did. His face was starting to lose color.
It was not easy. He’s six feet tall. I was wearing heels that were clearly too high for the steep shoulder that was covered in weeds and tall grass. Each time, I pushed back hard on his abdomen, I realized I would need to get him on the asphalt if I was going to get any more leverage.
What a relief.
He started to talk again between some coughing. I drove us back, hands clenched to the wheel, saying ridiculous things to lighten up the heaviness that hung inside our car. He went to the hospital, and I went back to work. Soon after I’d get a text that will forever go in my file of favorites.
“Ever saved anyone’s life before? Well now you have and I’ll never forget it.”
It forced me to process what had just happened, and I was grateful. So grateful he was okay, but I didn’t feel confident as I played the “what if” game. What if it hadn’t worked? My first aid certification that I got on a whim in Knoxville had long expired, and I couldn’t recall every detail about proper technique. If my job has taught me anything, it’s that anything can happen to anyone at any time, and it’s not always pretty. My first aid book that rides with me wherever I go will now have plenty more folds. You never know when something, anything is about to happen. You just never know so take a class, sharpen your skills, read up… Just in case it’s you next time.
She wanted something that many of us fear but all of us deserve: the truth.
Corinne Walls wanted the truth even if it put a little hole in her heart, and I think it did months later. I heard her tears through the phone as I told her what I had learned.
In some ways, it was what she expected. She had heard the rumors. She was told something had gone terribly wrong, but where were the answers? And what could she tell her mother who was now confined to a bed in a nursing home? How would she tell her that she mistakenly believed she had a lifeline inside her cozy home, a home she had shared with her late husband. His name… still on the phone bill.
Here’s her story…
Corinne thanked me that day, then again, shortly after the story aired on FOX59.
I kept thinking I should be the one to thank her. Too often people give up, lose faith, and simply say, ‘it’s too hard’ never realizing that they were a step away from something BIG or even a little bit of truth.