Carol Richer always had regular mammograms. She had a family history of breast cancer. Her maternal grandmother had passed away from the disease and her mother, who is now 84, battled the cancer nearly 20 years ago.
But time got away from her though. She had went 18 months without a mammogram and on Oct. 6, 2019, she was diagnosed with intraductal carcinoma stage 1.
“I had always been very religious in having mammograms due to my family history; however, time slipped up on me,” said Richer, who lives in Loogootee and works a customer service specialist at Farm Credit Mid-America.
Richer said under the advisement of her surgeon, she had a bi-lateral mastectomy on Nov. 12, 2019.
“I was told no evidence of disease, go live life,” said Richer.
And she did until April of 2020.
“After having cellulitis in the breast reconstruction site, a CT scan caught that cancer was in a lymph node under my right arm. Once again, I underwent surgery and three of the 13 lymph nodes removed tested positive for cancer,” she said.
Richer tackled chemo treatments again and had four treatments every two weeks of AC chemo, also known as “the red devil.” She still wasn’t done though. The red devil was followed up with 12 weeks of Taxol chemotherapy.
“The Taxol left me with neuropathy, which is damage to the nerve endings in my hands and feet. Following that chemo, I had 30 consecutive days of radiation,” Richer said. “Once again I was told no signs of disease progress, go live your life.”
Once again she did but in April she began experiencing extreme pain to the point she couldn’t walk.
“I went to the emergency room and a CT scan showed that the cancer had metastasized to my bones in several areas including pelvis, spine, legs and shoulder areas,” she said, adding she is now taking a three week cycle of Ibrance with one week off each month.
That treatment for the stage 4 metastatic breast cancer Richer is now battling begins with two injections of Faslodex and Xgeva and will continue until it’s no longer effective.
Through it all though Richer has remained resilient.
“My Mom is a 20-year breast cancer survivor and she is the one who paved the way for me to know how to bravely face cancer. I watched Mom treat her diagnosis as a mere bump in the road, and that’s where I learned resiliency,” said Richer.
She also offers a little advice to those who may face a cancer diagnosis.
“First off, if at all possible, don’t pick the year of a pandemic to have cancer. It’s complicated enough without having to fear going places and being with people. I have tried to use common sense however, after a while, I just said, “I can’t do this hibernation from life anymore,”’ she said, adding it’s important to know your body. “If you don’t understand your treatment plan or you think your diagnosis is incorrect or feel your concerns are not being addressed, speak up. You are your best advocate. Find your voice.”
Finding the humor in things has also helped Richer through her cancer journey.
“Learn to laugh at yourself. Share your stories — all of it, and other people fighting this same disease will thank you,” said Richer who said many have followed up with her since she shared her thoughts and stories and have mentioned how that’s helped and encouraged them. “Get rid of the elephant in the room because throwing a blanket on him helps no one. He’s still in the room.”
And even though losing your hair is scary, Richer points out, it will be OK.
“Honestly, it was one of those things I dreaded most. I had a lot of hair and the thought of it coming our in clumps terrorized me,” she said, adding she decided to shave her hair before it started falling out. “I told myself,”I can’t control losing my hair, but I can have a say in when it happen.’ Buy a wig or wear caps — the choice is yours.”
There will also be good days and bad days. With chemo, Richer said there can be some really bad days.
“Learn your limits and know when you need to slow down,” she said admitting that slowing down has been mentally hard for her. “I am not going to sugar coat this. The fight is hard and some days you have to push and push hard to keep going.”
Collect your tribe.
“These are the people who will pray for you, stand beside you and love you. They are the ones that won’t get nervous or ill at ease when you need to vent,” said Richer who said it’s also important to accept help from those around you. “You don’t have to do this by yourself. Besides the hair loss, one of the hardest things for me to accept is that I am no longer the workhorse I once was. In fact, I almost feel like I am living the life of someone I don’t know. Gone are the days of coming home from work, jumping on the riding lawnmower, weed eating, gardening, cooking dinner for 12. Now, I go to work get home and hit the recliner, totally wiped out. It is very sad and I long for the day when I can be me again.”
Which leads to Richer’s next suggestion — remain positive.
“I work to try to encourage myself with the little successes along the journey,” she said. “Yes, in 2021 women still die from breast cancer but many, many women survive. Ultimately, we are in the care and in the hand of God. I can’t think of a better hand to be in, can you?”
Susan G. Komen Organization provides the following list of breast cancer signs:
● Lump, hard knot or thickening inside the breast or underarm area
● Swelling, warmth, redness or darkening of the breast
● Change in the size or shape of the breast
● Dimpling or puckering of the skin
● Itchy, scaly sore or rash on the nipple
● Pulling in of your nipple or other parts of the breast
● Nipple discharge that starts suddenly
● New pain in one spot that does not go away
If you notice any of the listed signs, consult your doctor.