Take time to get educated, get tested & get involved
“You Can Smell Autumn”
I spent quite a while trying to find a title for this month’s article, as it’s a bit of a break from the usual regurgitation of medical facts, diseases, conditions and treatments but there just comes a time…
As we begin to wind down from our summer activities, there is one upcoming activity that bears tribute; the Susan G. Komen breast cancer Race for the Cure. It’s a very special activity to me because breast cancer has personally touched my life. The importance of breast cancer education and awareness cannot be understated, and I thank you in advance for allowing me to share these thoughts with you.
I remember it like it was yesterday…
At Christmastime in 1995. I received a phone call from my “Big Sis” leveling the news upon me. “I just came from the doctor and I have breast cancer.” She had found a “lump” on her breast some weeks before and had a recent biopsy. To this day, I don’t remember my response, if I indeed had one. That phone call marked the beginning of what can only be described as a long frightening journey, especially for her, with absolutely no idea how this journey would unfold. The biopsy results must have been the worst Christmas present a person could receive.
That was almost 15 years ago. After the diagnosis, there were the usual million questions we all had, as well as the dark one we didn’t really verbalize. What’s next? What do we do now? And while we as a family were trying to find ways to come to grips with all this new information, my big sis assumed a “take charge” attitude and said “I’m going to fight this, and beat this.”
It was her strength and determination that actually calmed the rest of us, knowing that inside she must have been terrified. My clinical knowledge and experience was coming to haunt me now. Thirty-plus years in the health care field – I knew what was happening. She underwent the mastectomy, tissue expanders and reconstruction procedures that must have been so uncomfortable that I can only imagine what it took for her to get through it all.
Fast forward to Spring 2007. After 12 years of fighting not only the disease, but health insurance companies, co-pays, co-insurance and attitudes and navigating unknown waters of the health care system mostly on her own, Big Sis had been enjoying a state of remission, or suppression; call it what you like. She had been on hormone-suppressing medication and in January of 2008, received what was essentially the last treatment in the protocol.
I was working out of town at the time and commuting between Oregon and Sandusky. One sunny lazy spring afternoon, while driving home, I got a call on my call phone. “My cancer’s back” was all I heard, all I remember hearing. A curious “pimple” on her previous mastectomy scar turned out to be malignant. Yes, the dreaded “recurrence.”
What followed over the next several months was a swirling whirlwind of activity including bone scans, chemotherapy and hair loss.
During the late summer and early fall months I would talk with my Big Sis in the evenings when I would stay over in Sandusky. She’d listen to me complain about my job and spew other purely selfish and ultimately meaningless rhetoric. She cut me short one day and simply said “I love August and September. Want to know why?
“It’s because you can smell autumn – the cut fields, turning leaves, cool evenings, the harvests, all sorts of things,” she said.
And then she hit me between the eyes.
She halted one of my complaining moments and merely said, “You forget who’s really in charge of everything. You may be steering the ship, but the course has been set out for you,” she said. That sparked a series of conversations about faith, life and death.
Karen Sue Chisholm died Dec. 29, 2008 at the age of 60 after a 13-year-long battle with metastatic breast cancer. She was a true survivor. The cancer had made her become an educated patient/consumer, a self-advocate, fighter, teacher… an inspiration. If it weren’t for the local chapter of the Susan G. Komen organization, she would have been lost. Their compassion, commitment, knowledge and support are unparalleled.
You know, I could find some way to incorporate some clinical or orthopedic mishmash into this article, like how breast cancer spreads to bones and how it increases the risk of pathologic fractures, but the focus of respect should be on this wonderful organization – the Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the people they serve, like “Big Sis,” for whom this race is held each year.
According to the American Cancer Society, in 2009, over 190,000 women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Early screening and detection is critical to improving survivorship.
Get tested. Get educated. Get involved.
“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” – Mother Teresa
Here’s to you, my Big Sis.
For more information, visit: http://www.komen.org and www.komenohio.org
Chisholm’s expertise in nursing, orthopedics and surgery spans more than 30 years. For more information on orthopedic-related topics, visit www.bone-and-joint-pain.com. Submit questions or comments to Ken at