Cancer survivor shares her story
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
In 2013, it is estimated among U.S. women there will be 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer and 64,640 new cases of in situ breast cancer and 39,620 breast cancer deaths. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. It is estimated that more than 1.6 million new cases of breast cancer occurred among women worldwide in 2010, according to the Susan G. Komen foundation.
It affects women of all ages, ethnicities and incomes. For Orange businesswoman, Elaine Meyers, she was not immune to the deadly disease. However, she is a survivor.
Meyers found a lump under her left arm in March 1989 while on a business trip in California.
“It was just a lump near the surface that felt like a round circle about the size of a quarter,” she said. “I had no pain.”
Meyers had always been in good health and didn’t have a history of cancer in her family. She also had annual mammograms for the past four years. But, she knew something was wrong.
Her doctor in Orange sent her for another mammogram before confirming her worse fears. It appreared she not only had breast cancer, but it was already widely spread.
Telling her then 70-year-old mother and children about her cancer was one of the hardest parts about her illness.
“I am a survivor,” she said. “I knew I was tough, but I didn’t know what it would do to my family.”
At the time when she learned of her cancer, Meyers already owned The Horseman Store, a 12,000 square foot western store in Orange. She was also starting Pottery World in Orange.
She began dealing with her cancer by putting her research skills to work to find the best cancer doctor. After completing her own research, both her daughter in Nacogdoches and her sister in Richmond both came to the same conclusion and recommended the same oncologist and surgeon — Dr. Peter de Ipolyi.
When she called the doctor’s office to schedule an appointment, his receptionist said he had been waiting on her call. Dr. de Ipolyi had learned of Meyers condition through her daughter’s professor’s son. The son was a surgeon at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Houston where de Ipolyi is a member of the Stehlin Research Foundation.
When de Ipolyi looked at her mammogram and examined her, he said there was no need for a biopsy.
“Your cancer is so widespread, we just need to take care of the problem tomorrow,” he told her.
The following day, she had surgery.
The doctor determined Meyers was a candidate for a lumpectomy which requires just the removal of the cancerous tumor and a small margin surrounding the breast tissue instead of a radical massectomy which removes the entire breast.
“I went to sleep knowing that 80 percent of my breast would be saved, which is a big help,” Meyers said.
But, the medical team discovered 16 of the lymph nodes under her left arm were positive for breast cancer, so all 22 were removed. She started chemotherapy four days after surgery and the doctors scheduled radiation treatment to being a month later.
The chemotherapy treatment was worse than she had anticipated.
“For two days, they would give me IVs with the chemical in it and I would vomit non-stop,” she said. “Then they would give me a day to recover.”
On the fourth day, she was sent home.
Meyers was told her hair would fall out within 30 days, and it did. Losing her hair was traumatic, but she learned to cope.
“I lived by myself and one morning I was so fearful of my hair falling out that I called my friend, Gayle Peveto, at 2 a.m.,” she said. “ I was crying and I said to her,”’ Do I wash it or not?”
My friend told me not to wash it and we cried together.
However, Meyers waited until her maid came the next morning before washing her hair because she wanted someone near her.
“I put my head in the sink and three-fourths of my hair fell in the sink as I washed it,” she said. “ Then I asked her to help me cut the rest.”
Meyers put on a wig she had bought before starting chemotherapy. Although she was still very weak, she called her office for someone to come pick her up.
Meyers boldly went to the office wearing her “beautiful” wig. Through tears she told them about losing her hair.
“So, does that make people love you any less?” they asked.
These were simple words of encouragement touched her heart.
During the month following her surgery, she had a setback which delayed her radiation treatments. She had pricked her finger with a crawfish shell during an event her friends and customers had thrown for her. The cut turned into a severe infection and before it could be controlled her temperature soared to 106 degrees.
“They took me to the hospital on Monday and I didn’t know anything until that Saturday when the fever finally broke,” she said.
“I had no white cells to fight the infection.”
Meyers finally began her radiation treatments in May. For more than five weeks, church members, friends and family members picked her up from work by noon to make the trek to Houston. They would return home around 6 p.m.
The treatments made her feel very tired and weak. The radiation treatments did not cause her any pain, but the burn which occurred gradually was a lot to endure.
After her treatments, she went back for checkups every six months. She has had biopsies of some lumps, but both times they came back benign. She now goes annually for checkups.
Meyers continued working at her businesses. For her it was the therapy she needed. She established two more Western stores in Louisiana and reopened another Pottery World in Slidell, La.
In 1987, she began Safety Wear Ltd. which is a safety shoe and clothing company.
The company serves a three state area and has more than 600 industrial customers.
She has five retail outlets located from Baton Rouge to Houston and four shoemobiles to service the Petro Chemical and related industries. For the last three years, the company has been honored with the opportunity to be the sole provider of safety shoes and clothing for the new Exxon Mobile International Facility being built in Houston. When finished the facility will employ about 11,000 employees, according to Meyers.
The shoemobiles are like traveling stores and carry up to 1,100 pairs of safety shoes. The units travel to various sites and can custom fit on the spot. The company is nearing completion with an opening date of Nov. 1 of a new Red Wing Store which will be located in Houston.
It will be a state of the art retail store and one of the “most beautiful” in the U.S. , she said.
Meyers has developed business relations with off-shore oil companies and furnishes products all over the world.
Meyers contributes each year to the Stehlin Foundation for Cancer Research.
“This is a great research group,” she said.
The group has a program where they work with nude mice which are the only animals that can grow human cancer. Therefore, they can treat an individual’s cancer growing in the mice and zero in on the proper treatment for the patient.
“I always say I buy mice food,” she added. “If I know just one person is saved, all of this is worth it.”
On a trip 12 years ago to Las Vegas and Denver, Meyers developed a condition known as lymphedema in her left arm. The incurable condition allows fluid to collect in her arm. Therefore, she was forced to wear an elastic sleeve or a heavy elastic bandage.
For a while she had a support group of lymphedema sufferers in the area. She also attended other support groups in other areas. In addition, she is a member of the National Lymphedema Association.
For more than 24 years she had been cancer free and a survivor even though at one time, she only had a 25 percent chance of survival.
“But, you can’t let fear rule your life,” Meyers said.
She also looks back on her illness and values each day. She also takes every opportunity to reach out to others who have cancer by even approaching strangers in public places when she thinks she may be able to offer some sort of comfort. Elaine Meyers overcame breast cancer 12 years ago. Since then she has worked to help others while continuing forward with her life and businesses.
“There are times when I come in from trips and on my answering machine will be a meek little voice that says,’” Elaine, you don’t know me, but I need to speak to you,’” she said. “I know at that moment that it is someone who needs encouragement and is going through the same thing that I did.”
Meyers said she prays every night and is thankful for God letting her have another day.
“I also pray that He will give me the opportunity to be a great help to other sufferers,” she said.
Meyers said she has never been bitter about her cancer.
“You get tired of all the tests you go through, but these are just minor things,” she said. “God has given me my life and I have been able to see three grandchildren born. He has blessed me with good businesses and excellent employees. I just don’t think He is through with me yet.”
Elaine Meyers overcame breast cancer 12 years ago. Since then she has worked to help others while continuing forward with her life and businesses.