January 2019 Thriver of the Month: Betty Harris
January 11 2019

My first cancer diagnosis was about 16 years ago—I was 37 years old. Test results confirmed that it was ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a form of breast cancer. After some internal panic and a lot of worry, I began my treatment regime which consisted of a lumpectomy and 36 radiation treatments. Upon conclusion of my radiation, I was stamped with a clean bill of health and told that there was only a mere 3% chance of a reoccurrence, so things were going great.

Well, throw that out the window. I was clear for 10 years and then it reared its ugly head once again, same cancer, same breast. “That’s it, I’m done… no breasts, no cancer”, I thought to myself, and decided to proceed with a double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery. Surgery was a success complete with clear margins and another clean bill of health. I didn’t bother asking about statistics this time since they didn’t prove to be very accurate for me the last time. Fast forward about four years to early January.

I had a weird stinging in my armpit and decided to request an MRI to basically just make myself feel better. I mean really, I had a double mastectomy and I should be fine, right? Well, the results came back...not so great. I received the news on January 19, 2016. This time, the cancer decided to travel leaving spots on my bones and liver. My first question was, “how long?” My answer was, “we need to do more testing. That same day, about four hours later, I was at Marietta Memorial Hospital being scanned from head to toe. My oncologist, Dr. Kelli Cawley, stayed at the hospital with me until after midnight waiting on all the test results. She sat with my husband Clark and reassured him we could deal with whatever the outcome. That was a Friday. On that Sunday, Dr. Cawley showed up on my doorstep, in the middle of a huge snowstorm to go over the results. Her first words were “we can get our arms around this.” She had a plan of attack already in place and was ready to start ASAP! On January 27, I started my new journey. Chemo! I was terrified! No words can possibly express what I was feeling and yes, I mentally prepared myself for death and envisioned my burial several times over.

The staff at Strecker was ready and waiting. My dear friend Jane Heiney had a rose and a card waiting for me—yes, I cried! That was a long day. Chemo was administered slowly so they could keep an eye on me to make sure I tolerated it. I want everyone to know who may face this, that sometimes it isn’t as bad as you think it’s going to be. I can honestly say, I didn’t miss a beat! I did not get sick or fatigued and my blood work was always perfect. I was even able to babysit my new grandson, Jaxson. I know this is just a vanity thing but, I didn’t lose my hair either! It did get much thinner, but I was able to put it up and it looked fine. I’m sure for some men, hair is also a big thing, but I can tell you that for a woman, it’s traumatic! My breasts were already gone and to think my hair was next? Well, it was unbearable to fathom! Women shouldn’t feel that breasts and hair define them, but for me, they did. This may sound completely silly, but I took the fact that I kept my hair as a sign from God that he was taking care of me and that I was going to be okay.

I believe that I completed chemo around the end of June and my scans showed that the spots on my liver were gone and that the bones spots were dead! I will never be completely clear of cancer, but for now it’s “asleep” and I’ve been in remission for almost three years. I will continue a maintenance program every 21 days for the rest of my life and, Lord willing, that will be many years. I will never be able to repay the kindness and support I have received, and continue to receive, from every member of my Strecker family. I actually look forward seeing my nurse, and friend, John, for my monthly visits. I sit in my chair, hooked up to my IV’s, look around the room at all the other people who are going through cancer treatment too, and say prayers for everyone, including those doctors and nurses who have dedicated their lives to help people like me and all the others. God touches people’s hearts in so many ways. I truly believe that we all have a purpose and a plan for our lives and He has handpicked those caring folks. To cry with us, hold our hands and to tell us that whatever this life has in store for us, we will be okay. For all of those folks, I am so thankful.

I’m asked about how I handle the diagnosis both physically and mentally. Physically, I have no issues. I’m very fortunate in that I have no side effects from the chemo nor the cancer. Mentally, well sometimes I don’t handle it very well. I have a very strong faith that God has a plan...do I wish that plan was for me to be healthy and look like Cindy Crawford? Well duh, yes, I do, but that’s not what I’m supposed to be. This is my life and I will try very hard to make the most of it. I have been so blessed with a great family, two super caring kids and the most wonderful grandkids anyone could ever ask for. Oh, and let’s not forget a wonderful husband.

After my mastectomy, I couldn’t raise my arms at all. I had two drains, one on each breast, and was not in very good humor. This man got in the shower with me, washed my hair and held those nasty drains so I could wash my body. In the middle of this total, very unflattering image of his wife, he held me sturdy, so I wouldn’t fall and told me how beautiful I was. I think I came back with something smart, in true ‘Betty style’ like, “remember when showering together was fun?” We both had a good laugh which was greatly needed. I guess what gets me from day to day is just that, faith, family, and friends.

One piece of advice in this whole journey would be to not to sweat the small stuff. Your house will be around for you to clean tomorrow and that grass, well it will be there too. The sun is out so grab a chair and sit in it. Oh yes, don’t forget sunscreen! Or, take the boat out and float, eat, talk with friends, swim in the river. Dig in the dirt and plant flowers. Sunflowers are my personal favorite. Or just pick up the phone and call, yes call, not text, a friend! Take advantage of time because it’s limited for all of us.

Clark and I have a few hobbies but, our favorite pastime is boating. We have a pontoon and believe me, we’re not setting any speed records, but it’s perfect for us. We take advantage of the sunny days every chance we get. Our newest obsession is discovering Destin, Florida. White sand, emerald green water that is so clear you can be up to your neck and see your feet plus all the little fish swimming around you. It’s a completely different world and we absolutely love it.

In my life I have few regrets. I have truly been blessed. Babies are born, people we love leave, and life goes on. Don’t be afraid to tell people you love them and take advantage of every, moment, both good and bad. Surround yourself with people that make you laugh and it’s okay to laugh at yourself. Be reassured that God has a wonderful plan for you and no matter what, with him on your side, you can, and you will get through anything.