Marcia McDonald learned firsthand the importance of early detection of breast cancer and the role that regular checkups and mammograms play. March of this year, Marcia’s life turned upside down when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Marcia was already a cancer survivor, having been diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2007. Two surgeries within six weeks for that and Marcia thought she had paid her ‘cancer’ dues.
She is the first to tell you that breast cancer diagnosis is fast, scary, and there is normally not much professional support available out there. She said most hospitals just send you home the morning after the mastectomy with a few instructions about the drain. Marcia says, “You quickly realize you need a whole instruction book on that. You have one visit with the surgeon three weeks later and are released to figure out how to take care of your disfigured self. Flowers Rehab is the best.”
Marcia tells her story, “In March 2016, I went in for yearly checkup and mammogram. I was not expecting anything different than the other dozens of times that I had done that. When I got a letter saying that my mammogram needed to be redone, I was still not worried because in 2007, I had uterine cancer and had two surgeries within six weeks. I figured that I had already served my cancer term. I never expected that I would ever have to face cancer diagnosis two times! After the positive results from the biopsy, I was immediately scheduled with a surgeon. Things moved fast. He recommended a mastectomy and it was scheduled for the next week. I barely had time to inform family and friends and get ready myself.”
Marcia says a huge blessing to her was the Mastectomy Followup Program at Flowers Hospital. An occupational therapist met with her in the hospital and discussed what she could expect over the next few days from the surgery and gave her some light exercises to keep her arm mobile. Marcia says, “I had an appointment with her when I went back for my post op surgery appointment and then met with her every three weeks for three months. She helped me with all types of unknowns that I faced after surgery. She taught me what I needed to know about post-surgery issues such as wound care, scar management, various pains, how to dress comfortably, how to wear a seatbelt, and was a cheerleader when I was feeling down. She worked intensively with lifting, range of motion, and how to regain full use my arm. I cannot imagine facing post mastectomy without the aid of an expert like that. Surgeons and other doctors don’t often help with these issues.”
Marcia’s surgery has not been without problems or complications. She says, “I am now having serious issues with lymphedema. This does not usually happen until about three years post op, but mine flared up within two and a half months.“ Lymphedema is swelling of the hand and arm because the path of lymph fluid is cut when the surgeon removes lymph nodes for pathology. The fluid has no path to use to leave the arm. Therefore it stays and causes painful swelling, and possible infection. Marcia says, “Thankfully my OT at Flowers Hospital Rehab is a certified lymphedema therapist. There are not many therapists in the southeast that treat lymphedema, so I thank God that I was already a patient of Kelly’s and was able to begin my lymphedema treatments immediately. I had treatments and massages, then had my arm wrapped in bandages three times a week for nine weeks. I am now on a maintenance program where I have to massage two times a day and wear a compression sleeve and glove to keep the swelling down and encourage the fluid to move up my arm. I cannot say enough about Flowers Hospital and their follow up program after surgery. My life has been so much more comfortable because of their services.”
Marcia is confident that early detection was the key to her surviving, “I know that I am well today because of early detection of cancer in 2007 and in 2016. Because I have been given extra chances, I have made it my mission to remind all of the females that I can to get checkups and mammograms as suggested for their age. I have a daughter and three nieces who have been alerted and because of seeing what has happened to me, will take the warning seriously.” One thing Marcia reiterates is that she never had any symptoms and neither did her gynecologist or she feel the 2cm tumor because of where it was situated. She cautions to not rely on how you feel, to get regular exams and mammograms.
Marcia is extremely thankful for the outpouring of support during her illness, “During my illness, my friends have been amazing. I can never thank them enough for the prayers, meals, books, gift cards, toiletries, transportation and love. We had meals brought almost every night for four weeks. That certainly made my recovery easier and my husband happy. My coworkers at Jackson Co Health Department Dental have done so much for me. They have all picked up the slack both during my absence and since I have been back at work. They are very protective of me and things that I try to do. Our program has barely missed a beat serving the elementary students during this time because of their extra work.”
Marcia has always been one to come to the rescue of those in need. With that in mind, although she herself was the one in need this time, she did for those who had done for her. “I tried to think of a way to thank so many people that were so good to me. I love crafting, so as I was sitting home recovering, I designed a little friendship bracelet and attached a breast cancer ribbon charm to each one of them. Cards that accompany the bracelet thank the people for caring and remind them to get regular checkups to save themselves from cancer. I made over 80 bracelets, and am still working on more. I pray that my story can save lives by showing the importance of early detection. By facing cancer head on, and early, I have discovered that giants are not always as strong and powerful as they appear. And sometimes the shepherd boy has a slingshot in his pocket and God by his side. I like to think that God is helping me ping cancer in its head with those small smooth stones. But I certainly hope I don’t ever have to use the next three.”