Beth Leatherman//breast cancer fighter//Cancer Survivors Park volunteer//enjoys walking her dog, Ritz//lover of gardening and cooking//retired marketing manager with Fluor Corporation

“In 1996, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with breast cancer through a routine mammogram.”

“I kind of got on a health kick.  I started running and exercising more and paying more attention to my health.   My initial reaction was that I wasn’t terribly concerned because it was not in my lymph nodes.   So we did a lumpectomy and a lymph node dissection.   Since it wasn’t in my lymph nodes, I didn’t have to do chemotherapy.  My surgeon was very positive about getting it all with the lumpectomy and gave me a good prognosis.”

“17 years later, on Christmas Eve 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.   Not exactly the news you want to hear at any time, but especially not on Christmas Eve. I had been going to my family doctor probably a good year complaining that I was having pain in the upper part of my stomach in the area of my rib cage.   My doctor kept telling me it was acid reflux, but I decided to take it upon myself to go to a gastroenterologist.   The gastroenterologist started running blood tests which revealed my liver enzyme levels were out of the roof.   We then did a CT scan and found abnormalities in my liver.   After that, I had a biopsy done and the biopsy came back positive.  I was sent to an oncologist right away.   By Monday, December 27th, 2013 I started chemotherapy.  I went through six months of aggressive chemotherapy.  I continue to see my oncologist monthly and take oral chemo medication.”

“I think I was very positive the first time around.   That’s not to say that it wasn’t scary.  I was scared, but sometimes you just need a wakeup call about life.   The second time around was definitely more serious as it had metastasized to my liver.”

“You think cancer of the liver, that’s really bad, you can’t live without your liver.   Everybody was scared and they were all thinking deep down, “she’s not going to make it,” without verbalizing it to me.   I think it brought me and my friends and family closer together.   We get together more often and take trips together.”

“I’m retired now, so I don’t have that added stress.   I’m able to pay more attention to the fatigue that comes along with the chemo so I can rest a bit more during the day.”

“My most memorable and fun time was when I lost my hair.  Once you lose so much, you end up shaving off what little bit of hair you have left.   I invited several of my girlfriends and my couple friends over to my house for a “hair today, gone tomorrow” celebration.   We made it a fun evening.   We had pizza, a champagne toast, and my husband shaved my head.   My friends brought over some cute beanie type hats and scarves that I modeled.   So it turned a sad time of my life into a fun event.”

“I know everyone’s cancer is different and I’m blessed that this has not gotten me down mentally or physically.   I know there are cancer patients who are much worse off than I am. There are days I get up and feel so good and I think I’ve been miss-diagnosed, but of course the tests prove different.  Your body reacts to cancer in different ways.   The treatments are tough, but I would just tell anyone who is going through this to do your best to stay positive.”

 

INTERVIEW BY AMY DOSER//PHOTO BY PATRICK COX