, Salem, MA

October 11, 2012

Letter: Two lives lost to breast cancer

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

I was wondering if you would be interested in hearing from someone who has lost a mother and an older sister to breast cancer.

I remember when I was 21 years old, my mother told me that she would be getting pains in her right breast, bad enough that it would make the hair on both arms stand up on end. I was after her to go to the doctor’s for a checkup to see what was causing the pain. Naturally, she didn’t go right away; the pain got more frequent as time went by. Finally, with all my prodding for her to go to the doctor’s, she finally went.

The doctor examined her and had X-rays taken and found a lump in her right breast. He set up an appointment for her to go to the hospital to have the lump removed.

When the doctor opened up the breast, he took a biopsy of the lump. The report was not good. The report of the biopsy came back as cancer.

It was already discussed between Mom and the doctor that he may have to take the breast off if the report came back as cancer.

When Mom woke up after surgery, she didn’t know if she still had her breast or not. She found it gone. When the doctor found out she was awake, he came in her room and explained to her he had to do what they called a radical mastectomy, which includes cutting under her arm to remove the lymph nodes. He told Mom he would have to have her begin chemotherapy and radiation. She was sick from the chemo and her skin where her breast was was like a piece of raw beef from the radiation. This went on every week for six weeks, vomiting from the chemo and hurting from the burned skin, from the radiation. After the six weeks, she finally stopped vomiting and her skin started to heal up. It would be so itchy.

I think she had a good idea that she was going to die, even before the doctor gave her a timeline of how much time she had to live.

I was married by that time and had a baby. I would go over my mother’s to visit with the baby and find her sitting at the kitchen table with her coffee and crying. She would tell me that she didn’t want to leave her family. The doctor gave her about four months, but she lived 14 months. Those 14 months were hell for her and the family, with not much quality of life.

On the evening of Halloween, she went into a coma at her home and was given morphine shots to keep her as comfortable as possible. My cousin, who was a registered nurse, stayed at the house to give her her morphine shots. In the early evening, all the family came over to be with us. Later that evening, Mom passed away at the age of 51. She died in 1972.

My sister was 63 years old and lived down Cape Cod. Her cancer went into her internal organs, and there wasn’t anything the doctors could do for her. She waited too long for a doctor’s visit. Nothing they could do for her. It traveled from her breast and went all through her.

Most people in the family have had some form of cancer, including my dad, as well.

I just wanted to let you know how the medical field has changed and improved since 1972. Mom and my sister were too young to die at such a young age. Hopefully in the future, there will come a day when the medical world will be able to find it earlier, but the patient has to go and check it out with their doctor.

I miss them all the time. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss them.

Too young –– too soon.

Barbara St. Pierre