A breast cancer survivor’s story
On a Wednesday, she found out she had a shin splint and would have to rely on the use of crutches for the next few weeks. On that Thursday she got a bladder infection, a root canal and an ingrown toe nail removed all in one day. Many people would probably feel like those two days were the worst days of their life. This wasn’t anything compared the news Beverly Perry would receive the next day.
Perry, who has lived in Bridge City since 1945, went to get her routine mammogram done in spite of the all other issues that occurred. “At first, I thought I would cancel my appointment, but I decided to put my crutches in the car and just drive myself because mammograms are important,” Perry said.
After some difficulty, she made it to her appointment. When the mammogram was done, she was told to wait in the patient room and not to change back into her regular clothing until the radiologist had seen the x-rays. The x-ray tech came back a short time later and told her that the radiologist wanted a magnified x-ray of her right breast. Perry said her heart sank.
Later that afternoon, she was told she needed to have a frozen biopsy done. When she woke up from the biopsy, the doctor had some bad news.
“When the doctor tells you that you have breast cancer, it’s like hitting a brick wall,” Perry said. “It’s just such a shock because I was told that I had an 80 percent chance that I didn’t have breast cancer.”
“Any time you hear the word ‘cancer,’ you begin to question your own mortality,” she said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s cancer of the little toe or on your breast. You become more aware that your mortality is fragile.”
“You’re thrown into a whirl of doctors and protocols which is good because it takes care of a lot of your physical time and thinking time. It’s also good because the doctor has a goal, so you have a goal. The end result is that you live. In order to live, you’ve got to take treatment.”
On Dec. 7, it will be seventeen years since Perry had the surgery to remove one of her breasts. “That’s a date I don’t forget easily,” she said. Her prognosis was very good, the cancer had not metastasized into her lymph nodes. “You cling to good news like that,” Perry said.
Perry’s doctor told her that she would not have to take chemo treatments but Perry felt differently. “I am the one that is responsible for my well being,” she said. Without consulting anyone else, Perry told her doctor at her two week post-surgery check-up that she wanted to start chemo treatments because of the small chance it could return. “I want to make sure that i’ve done everything that I can possibly do to take care of the cancer. Let’s get it done. Let’s not wait until tomorrow and let’s get it right the first time.”
The doctor agreed and wrote her a prescription for chemo and she took it for six months. “Perhaps it wouldn’t have come back had I not taken chemo. I will never know and that doesn’t bother me,” Perry said. “What matters is that I was proactive. I was able to lay my head on my pillow each night and sleep because I was doing something.”
“Chemo’s not fun but it’s not the worst thing in the world if you are thankful to be taking it,” Perry explained. “I was very thankful to be taking it because I know women used to die from [breast cancer].” She never felt nauseous but it did take a toll on her body. “I was very prepared to hug the commode.”
The loss of any body part can be depressing. Perry said “do whatever it takes to get out of [that depression]. Take a walk, call a friend, eat an ice cream, read a book, or go to a movie. Depression is something we all go through.”
Perry explained that life does return back to normal. Things were neglected start to become a priority. “You have to get back to what’s normal for you.”
A few weeks after her surgery, while she was still in treatment, two ladies from the American Cancer Society and Reach to Recovery called on Perry. She was so very impressed with them and grateful for their visit that she asked to join their cause. She was told that she would have to be finished with her treatment, her cancer must be in remission, she must take a few classes and that she could not join until one year after her surgery.
Once all the requirements were complete, she would then be able to call on ladies that are preparing to have or who have already had breast cancer surgery. The requirements are quite strict because one must know what the other is going through and only a breast cancer survivor knows what breast cancer patients are going through.
“It’s an emotional surgery,” Perry said. ” Everybody reacts differently to having cancer, but we’ve been down that road.”
When I first decided to be a volunteer to with the Reach to Recovery, and the lady that was the chairman of volunteers at that time said to me that I’ve remembered for 17 years, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it,” Perry said. “She told me ‘There can be joy after breast cancer.'”
Perry soon became involved in many programs to give back to the community.
Perry heard about the Relay for Life in South Jefferson County. She participated in that particular Relay before one started up in Orange and then in Bridge City. “Relay for Life is such a wonderful aspect for celebrating survivors and earning money for research,” she said. “It’s a very emotional time for some of us that do the survivors walk.”
She also heard about the Julie Rogers Gift of Life Program on a commercial on the television. She immediately became interested. The commercial was advertising a gathering at Parkdale Mall in Beaumont. She and her friend, Jane, went to check out what was happening. She said it was a small event, but she signed up to volunteer. The first program she volunteered at with the Gift of Life was a screening for prostate cancer at a church.
“The Gift of Life really does fill my soul. They take care of those who need treatment. They literally save lives.”
To Perry, the great part of the Gift of Life program is that the money that is raised in the Beaumont office, is spent on those in the area that need assistance.
“Because of the work they do, the staff and the financial backing they have, that support radiates back out into the community, Perry said. “They are just so devoted to helping.”
“Giving back has so enriched my life,” she said. “I have made life-long friends because the kind of people that volunteer and those that belong to these groups are the kind of people that care about one another.”
There are still many that don’t know about the Gift of Life and Perry and the other volunteers are still trying to spread the message. Uninsured and under insured women can call the office in Beaumont to get help.
A travel mammogram bus travels between Port Arthur, Beaumont and Orange for women that can’t make it into Beaumont to get a mammogram done. Women can call the Gift of Life office to get a schedule of when the bus will be in town.
“I was very much enlightened to the plight of women who don’t know about the resources available to them,” Perry said. “Sometimes we don’t think about others until it slaps you in the face.”
Perry encourages other women who are suffering from breast cancer to just keep going. “Fix your hair and fix your face. It makes you feel better,” she said. “We are creatures of hope.”
She also encourages every women to get regularly screened for mammograms and to get their yearly check-ups. “We are a society that thinks we are too busy,” she said. If we can maintain our cars, why can’t we maintain our bodies?”
In spite of it all, Perry refuses to let breast cancer get the best of her. “I never did say “why me? It’s not my style,” she said. “You are responsible for your own happiness and you have to believe you’re going to better.”
For more information on the Julie Rogers Gift of Life Program, call 409-833-3663 or visit www.giftoflifebmt.org.
For more information on the Relay for Life, visit www.relayforlife.org.
For more information on Reach to Recovery and the American Cancer Society, call the local Beaumont office at 409-835-2132 or visit www.cancer.org.