Morning Sun
  • Breast cancer ‘not a death sentence’

  •  There was no history of breast cancer in Shelly Walrod’s family and it was the last thing she expected would happen to her.

    But it did happen, and not once, but twice.

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  • There was no history of breast cancer in Shelly Walrod’s family and it was the last thing she expected would happen to her.
    But it did happen, and not once, but twice.
    “The first time, I knew nothing about it,” Walrod said. “I did mammograms every year because I was on hormone replacement therapy and had no fear of breast cancer because there was none in my family.”
    That changed late in 2007.
    “During an examination my doctor felt something in my left breast and did a mammogram,” she said. “It was fine, but there were some calcifications in my right breast and it turned out to be cancer.”
    The news hit her hard.
    “It felt like a death sentence,” Walrod said. “It took my husband, our sons and all my family to support me and get me through it.”
    She has three sons and nine grandchildren, and said that one of her sons and his wife accompanied her to her first treatment.
    “My son is an associate pastor and he ministered to me,” Walrod said.
    She had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. She was warned that her hair would probably fall out, but held onto to the hope that it wouldn’t.
    “A friend went with me to pick out a wig, just in case,” Walrod said. “A week after my first treatment, my hair started falling out.”
    She completed treatments and was getting mammograms every six months, along with an MRI to back it up.
    “In September 2010 the cancer came back in the same breast,” Walrod said. “This time it wasn’t found by the mammogram, but by the MRI.”
    There was also another difference in the second time around.
    “I took control of this and went to a breast surgeon in Kansas City and had my second surgery,” Walrod said. “I did decide to have reconstruction. It wasn’t because of vanity, it makes me feel more normal.”
    While there is some thought that hormone replacement therapy can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer, Walrod said that her cancer was not hormone-sensitive. Instead, hers was a HER2-positive tumor, which tends to be more aggressive and fast-growing. To combat it, she was given the drug Herceptin for a year.
    Walrod is now carefully monitored and sees an oncologist every three months and the breast surgeon every three months.
    “We had been on a trip to see our grandchildren and I had some low back pain,” she said. “I doubted it had anything to do with breast cancer, but the doctor did a PET scan.”
    Walrod was right that her discomfort was not caused by any recurrence of cancer. But the scan did uncover a staph infection in the cervical vertebra of her spine that was not causing any symptoms but could have become serious later.
    Page 2 of 2 - She said that this journey with cancer has made her stronger.
    “They say don’t sweat the small stuff, and that is absolutely true,” she said. “Things happen for a reason. I had worked for doctors for 25 years and had quit work in July. The cancer was found in September, and I didn’t have to worry about working while undergoing treatment.”
    Her marriage to her husband, Don, was, if anything, made even stronger by her journey.
    “I call him my rock,” Walrod said. “We’re like best friends.”
    She has advice for women.
    “I want to stress the importance of having early mammograms,” Walrod said. “If you are diagnosed with cancer, get a second opinion and don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is not a death sentence, but you do need to be proactive.”
    After that, she advises faith.
    “You kind of have to have faith in somebody or something,” Walrod said. “You may not understand what’s happening, but God knows. Take each day at a time. Today you may not be good, but tomorrow will be better.”

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