Coping with cancer was easier with prayer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Staff Writer

In 1975 when I discovered a lump in my breast, I thought little of it.

"Oh well, it will be sore for a few days after the lumpectomy with the stitches, just as the one I had a couple of years ago," I thought.

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Even the urgency in Dr. J.O Colley’s voice on that Saturday that I be in the hospital the following Monday did not worry me. After all, no one in my immediate family had ever had cancer.

I entered the hospital bright and early on that Monday, Sept. 8, 1975, but it was noon before I went into the operating room. After some serious counseling and the signing of forms, Dr. Colley said, "Jean, you will be out in about 45 minutes if there’s no malignancy; but, you understand that if the lump does prove to be malignant, you will be in there four or five hours because I’ll have to be thorough and get it all."

"Yeah, Doc, let’s get on with it, I have to get back to work."

When I awoke and looked at the clock and realized I had been in there approximately six hours, it hit me like a ton of bricks. That was my first realization that something terrible had just happened to me. I started to cry, not from the pain of the surgery, but the impact of the fact that I knew I had cancer.

Cheryl Colley DiChiara, the recovery nurse, came and tried to soothe me, asking if I needed something for pain. I told her nothing could ease the pain that I felt at that moment.

The first couple of weeks were the worst I have ever spent, trying to adjust my thinking. I was filled with self pity. At the time I actually wished that I had died on the operating table. It was the end of the world, or so I thought.

Then, as my friends started visiting, their voices kept repeating, "It’s not as bad as you think…It will get better…and you WILL feel better." Fifteen wonderful ladies, who had been through the same operation, came to visit me through this ordeal to share their stories with me. I know in my heart God sent them.

Yet, I still lay there agonizing because I new something they didn’t. I knew the cancer had already spread to the lymph glands and that I had six weeks of cobalt, or radiation, awaiting me.

I had thought all my friends would desert me because of the trauma associated with the disease, but if you could have seen all the flowers and cards I received; they even spread out into the hall. So, gradually, I began reading the cards and every one had added a note saying, "We are praying for you."

But, I thought if it had spread to the glands, there was no chance I could make it, but God spoke to me, gently reminding me that I had not seen Robin married, nor had I had the joys of a grandchild. The very next day, Reba and her husband came to see me. I was still in the hospital and they announced they were expecting. I bolted straight up in the bed!

It was then that I began to fight to live. I prayed. The next day, I felt better. I prayed again. I told God that if he would help me, "There’s no way I’m gonna die before the birth of my first grandchild."

I began the 26 treatments of cobalt in November, finishing the last one four days before Christmas. I worked in the mornings and went to Montgomery for the treatments in the afternoons. My friends lined up to take me every day. Each day when I entered that big room with the scary equipment, I prayed while under the x-ray machine. Dr. Pickering, the radiologist, and I became good friends, even if he wouldn’t promise me for sure I’d be through by Christmas; nor could he guarantee that these treatments would cure me. Strange as it may be, it was as though somehow we both knew that I’d make it, at least a few more years.

Now, 25 years later, I am living a full and richly rewarding life. I give God the praise for it every day. Cancer does NOT have to be a killer! So, ladies, get a mammogram. There’s an 80 percent chance that, if a lump is found, it WILL NOT be malignant. However, if you are diagnosed as having cancer, you have so many options today; and if you catch it early, your survival rate is almost guaranteed.

I hope that by sharing my story, it will give hope to someone who is undergoing the trauma of having cancer. Without a doubt, I KNOW that God heard my prayers, along with all the others that went up for me.

Jean J. Boutwell is a community columnist for The Messenger.