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Two Stories of Survival

Two Stories of Survival

By Melissa Amyx Smith, OMC Media Relations Specialist, and Stacy Tintocalis, Freelance Writer

October is breast cancer awareness month, a time to acknowledge the courageous battles of those who have fought breast cancer, celebrate those who have survived, and remember those who lost their battle. It is also a time to be diligent in our self-examinations, schedule our mammogram appointments, and remind others to do the same.

Violet White and April Mayfield battled through breast cancer last year. Both survived, and because of this, their lives have changed.

Ozarks Medical Center Cancer Treatment Center is a part of hundreds of these stories every year. Annually, over 400 new cancer patients are diagnosed and treated here. More than 25,000 patient visits and procedures are performed yearly by the OMC Medical Oncology Department. More than 11,000 total visits and procedures are performed each year by the OMC Radiation Oncology Department.

OMC recently completed an expansion and remodel of the Cancer Treatment Center to provide patients and their family members with a healing garden and a tranquil place for the services they need. This expansion was made possible through the tremendous support of our community and the Ozarks Medical Center Foundation.

VIOLET WHITE, Birch Tree, Missouri

Violet White was 66 when suddenly she noticed a large lump in her breast. “I knew it wasn’t normal and hadn’t seen it there before. The nipple had inverted. I knew something was wrong when I saw that.”

Violet’s family had no history of breast cancer, though her father had skin cancer. “Other than that, there was no one. I was the first. I was totally shocked.”

As soon as she noticed the lump, she scheduled an appointment with Dianna LaVee Keeling, NP, her family nurse practitioner in Birch Tree. “Dianna moved fast,” Violet said. “She called Dr. [Charles] Morgan’s office. When I did the mammogram, the lymph nodes under my arms had cancer. And there was also the lump.” That was last year on October 12th.

A month later she went through chemotherapy at Ozarks Medical Center (OMC). “I can’t even describe how sick I was at first. It was awful. But all the nurses in the chemo room, oh my gosh! They were great. The girls who gave chemo treatment were great about lifting me up spiritually.”

Soon afterward chemo started, it was affecting her feet and legs. They’d hurt. She’d get charley horses. Sometimes she’d get numb. Things got worse when big blistery sores formed on her hands and arms. “That’s when Dr. Morgan stopped chemo,” she said.

Dr. Morgan transitioned Violet to a lighter treatment to suppress hormones—Herceptin and Perjeta.

Then something miraculous happened. “The lump literally disappeared,” Violet said. “Dr. Morgan was amazed. The cancer in the lymph nodes was gone too.”

She had two more pet scans to find the cancer, but the cancer was gone. Because she never had a mastectomy, she did several weeks of radiation.

Just last month, Violet completed her last radiation treatment. She still has two more IV maintenance treatments, but today she is cancer free.

Luckily, Violet had a loving support system around her when she was first getting treatment. “My sister and neighbor have been a big help,” she said. “When I was really sick, my husband took over the housework and did everything. He still has to help me. I still don’t have strength back. I get tired easily.”

Her son and daughter were her cheerleaders, too. “Whenever I said, ‘I can’t do this,’ my son Kevin would say, “Yes, you can, Mom!’”

Even when she was feeling her worst, she tried not to dwell on the cancer or think about it. “I just wanted to reassure my family that everything was okay. I had to be strong for them.”

“Some people get scared to death. I never did. I don’t know why,” Violet said. “I’d get flustered because I couldn’t work but as far as getting emotional, I didn’t. My family did.”

Now that she’s moved past this experience, she wants people to know that cancer can be overcome. “Dr. Morgan was great,” she said. “I believe that prayers helped, too.”

“Just hang in there,” she said to anyone with a recent cancer diagnosis. “Don’t get down or be afraid. Lean on your friends if you have to.”

Violet White, above, now cancer free.

APRILMAYFIELD, West Plains, Missouri

April Mayfield was fifty when she’d just lain down to go to sleep and felt a slight pain. “More like a soreness,” she said. Then she reached around and found a lump in her breast.

“I got on my cellphone and started researching it,” she said. “The way it felt, the way it moved, the hardness of it…everything indicted that it was breast cancer.”

Not only did April not have a family history of cancer, she also didn’t have a big family tree of women to draw from.

The next day she called her general practitioner in West Plains, James Thompson, MD. He suggested that she see a surgeon. She went to Dr. Antony Joseph at OMC and was quickly scheduled with OMC mammography.

“The day I got the mammography done, I asked what day they’d read it. And they said, ‘Oh, they’ll read it today!” Then biopsies were scheduled. After the results came back, she had an appointment with an oncologist.

After her diagnosis, she started six weeks of chemo last year on April 12. The process was chemo first, then surgery, then radiation therapy at three-week intervals. Her last round was July 26.

Chemo wasn’t easy. During her first round, she got neutropenic fever and spent a couple of nights in the hospital. She had to learn to take nausea medication. “When I was having a rough day,” April said, “I would always remind myself of all the women who had gone through the treatment. People I knew, and people I've never met, inspired me to keep going.”

“On week three of chemo, you feel like you can eat again,” she said. “From day to day and week to week, what you could eat would change. By the time you get to round six, you’re ready for it to be over.”

April, a secretary at the courthouse, worked as much as she could through chemo. “I’d usually have chemo Tuesday and would stay home until Friday.”

In October, she had a single mastectomy and stayed in the hospital overnight.

Radiation began in January and February. She did thirty-six rounds of radiation, Monday through Friday, before work. She joked that it takes longer to get undressed and dressed again than it does to get the radiation therapy. “It’s very short. By the time you get back there, it’s ten minutes at most.”

Even though radiation left her red and irritated, as long as she kept the wound hydrated, she didn’t have many problems.

Throughout her treatment at OMC, she said the one thing that sticks out is that so many people said to her, “I bet you’re glad you don’t have to go to the cancer treatment center anymore.” But she said, “I wasn’t stage four. I didn’t mind being there. I appreciated [the staff] very much.”

Throughout it all, she had help from friends and family members. “People from church would bring meals, which helped my husband! I had a good attorney friend who’d get meals prepared for me. And my mother would bring stuff.”

“I don't want to forget to thank anyone that helped me,” April said. “My mom, all the friends, and the church family, who fed us and prayed for us, mean the world to me.”

After going through this experience, April knows how important an early diagnosis is. “If you find a lump, go get it checked out,” she said. “The earlier it is in the process, the easier it will be.”

April Mayfield, above, celebrating her 52nd birthday cancer free.

For more than 25 years, the community has trusted OMC to provide exceptional cancer care. OMC has continually provided technological advances such as a new linear accelerator and a 4D Oncology CT scanner. With these advances, it is important for our patients to receive the care they need in a calming and soothing environment that will promote healing and nurturing. OMC wants our patients to feel uplifted by their surroundings as they face their battles with cancer.

Early detection is key to surviving breast cancer. Self-examinations should be done every month starting at age 20. Yearly mammograms are encouraged. To schedule a mammogram, call 417-257-5901. For more information about the OMC Cancer Treatment Center, call 417-257-5900.

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