It’s no secret that thriving, vibrant women abound in our community. In fact, The Leader community is blessed with an abundance of active, caring women from all walks of life. A common thread connecting some of these bright souls is breast cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month nationwide and as part of the campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer risks and the value of screening and early detection, The Leader is grateful to be able to share the journey of a few of our neighbors who have conquered breast cancer, honoring them as well as those currently in the fight of their lives right now, and also those precious to us who lost their battles with breast and other cancers.
Cindy Atkinson Medina grew up in Northside and attended Sam Houston High School, is married to Cesario Medina and is mother to two children, son Ryan Elder and daughter Tiffany Elder. Medina is beloved by friends and family scattered all over Leader country. Medina glows with love for her family and a fun nature, enjoys traveling, relaxes by creating fabulous and intricately worked quilts coveted by friends and family who are lucky to receive them as special gifts at hallmark events in their lives, loves crafting and dogs, and is, of course, a breast cancer survivor.
After a clear routine mammogram in March 2013, Medina was surprised to discover a painful lump almost the size of a tennis ball in her right breast the following December. Because it was so large, seemed to appear out of nowhere and was painful, and she had a history of fibrocystic breasts, Medina did not even consider cancer a possibility, and promised herself she would see her doctor in January after the busy holiday season wound down. The day after she returned home from a holiday trip to New York City with daughter Tiffany in January 2014, she went for a mammogram after calling her doctor and within just a couple of hours was told doctors were 99% certain she had breast cancer and they wanted to biopsy the lump immediately. After meeting Dr. Daniel LeHane at The Methodist Cancer Center, Medina embarked on a 6 month course of chemotherapy, receiving Red Devil Chemo, a very strong treatment protocol, followed by a lumpectomy and removal of some involved lymph nodes. Medina then had 33 radiation treatments and is now on a regimen of a 1 mg chemo pill which she will take for 10 years.
Working full time during treatment was a routine Medina was determined to maintain to stay busy and she did indeed continue working throughout, although she was hospitalized 6 times for 3 – 5 days after most of her chemo treatments and was very seriously ill one of those times.
Medina said, “The one thing I never once did was go to the computer and look it up. I lost my mother to ovarian cancer in 1995 and when she was first diagnosed, I went to the computer and was horrified with what I read and my mother only lived 18 months. I did not want to know everything, and I trusted my doctor to tell me everything.” Medina found strength in her supportive family and focused on getting well so that she could attend her children’s weddings (neither was engaged at the time) and enjoy the grandchildren she is sure will come eventually. “I decided that I had too much to live for and I had to get a grandbaby one day so there was no way I was giving up and was going to fight it 100% to make sure I could beat it!”
Medina very candidly shared her experience from the beginning on Facebook, sharing her ups and downs and of course, the wonderful day she rang the bell after finishing her last treatment. Reading the positive thoughts, words of encouragement and prayers of friends and family on social media made her fight that much more.
Medina’s message to other women is: “Do not wait! Do your self-exams and if you notice anything different, go to the doctor immediately and do not wait like I did. If I had gone at the beginning of December it is a good possibility that the cancer would not have spread to my lymph nodes. So please do not wait; it could make a big difference. In my case, it was only 9 months between the clear mammogram and the discovery of a 5 cm lump.”
Medina and her sister in law, also a survivor, have participated in the Komen Foundation’s Walk for the Cure for years every October and now have their own team, the Pink Pacers.
Another survivor who prefers to consider herself a thriver is Terry Jeanes of Garden Oaks. If you have met Jeanes, you will understand when she says, “I had to take the bull by the horns. I had to pay attention.” Independent, focused, giving and strong, Jeanes has been quietly kicking cancer to the curb for a little over a year now.
Jeanes had a mammogram in November of 2015 and a cyst her doctor had been watching had not changed. Fast forward to the summer of 2016 and Jeanes noticed something was different. She couldn’t decide what was different as the cyst seemed to be the same, but something was indeed different. Not yet due for her annual mammogram, Jeanes acted on her intuition and called to make an appointment. When the office noted she wasn’t yet due for her annual exam and let her know insurance might not cover the test, Jeanes did not let that be an obstacle put before her that would cause her to dismiss the situation; in her gut, she was paying attention. She made the appointment. Realizing about 5 weeks later she had not received a call regarding an appointment, she called back to find her request had gotten lost and made an appointment on the spot.
Quickly following a mammogram done on Sept. 6 were tests and treatment at The Methodist Hospital. Jeanes’ PET scan, bloodwork, biopsy, and meeting with an oncologist – all was done in 6 weeks. The tumor had grown underneath the cyst moving the cyst forward, and while Jeanes couldn’t feel a difference, there was indeed a difference.
Jeanes credits her wonderful support system to her strong recovery from surgery and treatments. Her mother and sister have both been treated for breast cancer by the same doctor and team, and the knowledge of their success was a strong motivator. After years of being involved with the community and giving to others, be it the community, family, friends, clients – she felt like good things were coming back to her. After being a giver all these years, now her lesson was learning to receive. She recalls an outpouring of love and support and that fueled her.
She also decided early on her philosophy was, “I am going to be a good patient.” Jeanes did not neglect to ask questions, but she was going to be a good patient and she put her trust in her doctors. She researched, but not to the point where she was inundated or overwhelmed.
As she underwent rounds of chemo, radiation and a double mastectomy, Jeanes began to notice a flow of love and positivity. She mindfully expressed gratitude all the time, even for little things. She granted herself time to process fear and purge out the negative so that she could take in more joy. She said literally, that is her philosophy with all of it: purge out the negative so she could take in more joy, and then it was important for her to share that joy with others. Just little positive actions create a ripple effect that you can see. Jeanes reminded herself, “It is OK to acknowledge the fear; you want your life back, but this is your life. It is just different.”
Jeanes rewarded herself with restful breaks and treated herself with visits to peaceful spots as well as permission to take naps! “Rest and recharge” was a phrase she shared on Facebook with her friends, reminding them to do the same for themselves. She journaled, and she was very public with it – and she shared her journey.
In trying to explain her feeling about the old saying “practice what you preach,” Jeanes said, “We teach what we need to learn the most. By having it forthright and before me, it reinforced me and refueled me and reenergized me to keep going. And then I expressed gratitude, I took time to do that, and it became part of the ritual of living. The ritual of the celebration of living life while you are here – while you are here.
“I am more than a survivor, I am a thriver.” Jeanes said to her, surviving is treading water. Surviving is getting by. “I am going for the gusto. It’s not the big house, the big car; it is living life and loving it – taking in the joy, expressing the gratitude, and passing on to others and that inspires me to do it again. To repeat the circle. It’s thriving!”
Go for the joy. Go for the smiles. Be with people and let them be in a happier state than when you met them. That’s the ticket.
Jeanes did have the joy of being able to focus on a new baby and a new life coming into the famly – her daughter was pregnant – and her visual during chemo was cuddling a new baby – and all of a sudden the visual was here and the treatment was done!
Every victory was one step closer to being over the obstacle and putting that in her rear view mirror.
“Each person has to find what works for them – that makes them find a place for peace – and whether it’s visualization, journaling, whatever, and use that. And whatever gives you strength makes the difference.”
Barbara Dickens of the Houston Heights has shown her strength as a 7th Dan Black Belt and as a two-time cancer survivor of 29 years. She states, “I am a survivor, not just a statistic. I don’t think people realize how much the discipline of martial arts can get you through something like this. People think of the kicking, punching, turning, but they don’t think about the discipline and mindset. The attributes of self-confidence, discipline, self-esteem, perseverance – all of those things, practiced over and over all of those years – I use the tenets of martial arts every day of my life!”
In 1988, Dickens had just had a clear, routine mammogram and then several months later a lump was found which was malignant. Dickens turned to MD Anderson for treatment and she also endured the Red Devil version of chemotherapy.
“Being diagnosed in 1988 was the changing point in my life. I was completely devastated. It was the last thing I thought I would hear. There was no family history of cancer. Why me? I didn’t drink or smoke. Why me? I went through all the stages from hating God to “I’m going to die and I’m way too young to die.” This lasted for about a week.
“I realized I had three powerful cancer fighters already at my disposal and I began to realize I had all along what it would take to beat this disease – the things ‘cancer CANNOT take away.’I had God. As in the poem ‘Footprints,’ God carried me every step of the way, especially when I couldn’t walk. I had my family. They were always there to love me, to support me when I felt weak, and to wipe away the tears when they came. I had martial arts and my students who gave me strength and energy.”
Dickens now walks three miles every day, kayaks, gardens and raises her own vegetables. In addition to running her business, White Horse Academy of Martial Arts located in the Houston Heights, Dickens stays busy and keeps her body moving. She believes fully that cancer changed her and made her a better person; the experience made her want to give back and fight for people who need an advocate.
In addition to being named a Hero of Hope in 2012, Dickens is heavily involved in the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (“ACSCAN”) and ACS’s Relay for Life. Research funding, reduction in the cost of cancer drugs, and access to treatment are a few of the things about which Dickens is passionate and outspoken.
A valuable tool which did not exist in 1988 is a vital and free resource for cancer patients and their families today: the 24/7 American Cancer Society hotline. Banks of phone volunteer operators help guide people through the maze of cancer treatment information as well as the challenge of living with cancer. Dickens claims, “You can ask them anything! Questions about drug interactions with your chemo, insurance coverage problems, problems paying your household bills, questions regarding the Family Leave Act and sick time, they will even help you through a panic attack in the middle of the night. For free! They are taking hundreds of calls and helping hundreds of people per day.” Dickens urges patients and their families to make use of this resource. The toll free number: 800-227-2345. Go to www. cancer.org for more information about the programs and services offered by the American Cancer Society.
Recently in Washington DC at the Lights of Hope ceremony where 25,000 luminarias circled the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a man walked up to Dickens and asked what was going on. She explained about the luminarias honoring those lost to cancer and also those fighting cancer. The gentleman was an evacuee from Hurricane Irma in Florida and he was in DC to wait out the storm. He was so moved by what he was witnessing that he put his arms around Dickens and hugged her, a complete stranger, and held on. Dickens related, “(As a survivor) You don’t know the impact you have on people – and you have to take it – the love and encouragement – when they offer it to you and then you have to give it back to someone else.”
“Cancer does truly change your life forever; you don’t look at anything the same way again. I ask God every day to give me one more day. I know I was put on this earth to fulfill something, and I don’t think he’s ready to take me. (Dickens is 75 years old.) Now I think I know why I was put here: to educate people and to be their friend; to be their power.”
Dickens’ message for women in our community who may face breast cancer in the future or are fighting right now? “Hope. Never, ever give up hope. We live it and breathe it every day; we fight every day and when you can’t fight any longer, that same word “hope” is what makes you ready to meet your Creator.”
Dickens has colored her short hair purple for a number of years now and it is her trademark. She said, “My hair is purple, the color of hope; I want people to be reminded about hope. Every time you see or think about purple hair, make your appointment to get your mammogram or go get your colonoscopy.”
She emphasizes, “We can Relay (for Life) – we can do all these fun things and say we are fighting cancer – but we can’t do anything without the politicians and they need to hear our voices.” This fall, Dickens traveled to Austin for Texas Lobby Day and Washington DC for National Lobby Day and was thrilled to find all the states were represented. Participants spoke to their own congressmen and representatives and she met some wonderful representatives as well. “All of them need to be convinced they need to support us. Without proper healthcare, cancer patients are a thing of the past.”
“When you hear the words, ‘You have cancer,’ your mind goes totally blank. You think ‘I’m dying.’”
Dickens continued, “I had insurance when I was first diagnosed. Within 12 months my premiums went from $200 per month to over $2,000. I was forced to drop my coverage and forced to pay the bills myself. One chemo treatment I had was billed at twice what my house cost. But – you do what you’ve got to do. MD Anderson did not ever press me for money and they would take whatever I could send them and let me work out the plans for what I would pay them. Pharmaceutical companies are making a killing. Courses of treatment should be aimed at saving lives not aimed at making money. How can people possibly focus on their recovery when they are struggling to pay for treatment?”
The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network has a website to help you communicate and lobby from your laptop or IPad! Go to ACSCAN.org, put in your home address and the website will tell you who your representatives and congressmen are. When a bill comes up for a vote, ACSCAN will send you a form via email and will forward your opinion on to your legislative representatives for you.
You can also use the information to post on Facebook to share the news with your Friends. It’s easy and painless and yet your legislators will know what you want done. Chemo drugs – treatment – cancer care can be made more affordable. It will take more people speaking out and voting, but that can be done. It starts with you.