Dear breast cancer

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From left, Elizabeth Anderson, Yopi Havlik, Sarah Demmon, and Lori Goldsby, all Fishers residents and breast cancer survivors. They are in different stages of recovery and each wrote a very personal letter to their cancer. (Photo by John Cinnamon)

From left, Elizabeth Anderson, Yopi Havlik, Sarah Demmon, and Lori Goldsby,
all Fishers residents and breast cancer survivors. They are in different stages of recovery and each wrote a very personal letter to their cancer. (Photo by John Cinnamon)

Fishers breast cancer survivors write a very personal letter to their cancer

By Ann Craig-Cinnamon

The colors of fall are even more beautiful in October with the addition of pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer has become a disease on the run. In fact, when detected early survival rate at 5 years is now 98.5 percent, according to Dr. Patricia Kennedy who specializes in Breast Surgery at IU Health North.

She said an estimated 4,590 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Indiana in 2014.

“Fortunately most women are cured.  In fact, while the incidence of breast cancer has remained stable, the death rate from breast cancer has been steadily decreasing since 1989.  This is thought to be due to both improvements in early detection and treatment,” said Dr. Kennedy who adds that it is estimated that 860 women in Indiana will die of breast cancer in 2014.

“While it can be frustrating that we do not have a prevention or cure for all women yet, we have made tremendous strides in our understanding of breast cancer and how to treat it,” Dr. Kennedy said. “In many cases now we can personalize care for individual patients with a goal of giving each patient the treatment they need, without either overtreatment or risking under treatment.  We are so fortunate to have much of this research going on right here in Indiana, at the IU Simon Cancer Center.”

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, five Fishers women, in various stages of breast cancer diagnosis and recovery, share their very personal thoughts about the disease and how it has affected their lives in letters they wrote to their cancer.

Lori Goldsby, 50, caterer and food column writer; married 30 years; one daughter.  Diagnosed Feb. 2014 with the BR CA 2 (breast cancer gene); Double Mastectomy May 2014

Lori Goldsby, 50, caterer and food column writer; married 30 years; one daughter.  Diagnosed Feb. 2014 with the BR CA 2 (breast cancer gene); Double Mastectomy May 2014

Dear BC,

I am happy that you are gone. You may have taken my breasts, and soon you will get my ovaries, but you will NOT take my life. I’m one of the lucky ones and I’m happy to say I’m the new majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer. WE are finding you and your friends early and we are SURVIVING! Because I was so diligent about having my mammogram every year within a week or two of the previous year, we caught you early.

I was a little naïve that I was going to sail through this. You almost had me, BC…endless rounds of infection, kidney failure and a pulmonary embolism have weakened me but my spirit is intact and I know I’m one of the lucky ones. See you could never take away the amazing support of my husband and daughter, family, dear friends and an amazingly talented medical team.

I’m still healing but I’m proud to say I survived you. Lori

Sarah Demmon, 44,  Principal Research Scientist at Eli Lilly and Co.  Diagnosed in 2007; 10 surgeries over the span of one year, aggressive chemo regimen; removal of ovaries in 2008. 

Sarah Demmon, 44,  Principal Research Scientist at Eli Lilly and Co.  Diagnosed in 2007; 10 surgeries over the span of one year, aggressive chemo regimen; removal of ovaries in 2008.

Dear Breast Cancer,

In February 2015, I will celebrate seven years of being free from your clutches. You blindsided me on August 14, 2007 at the age of 37, and took me on a ride of epic proportions. I was mentally assaulted with shock, fear, rage and helplessness. Then you physically assaulted me – forever changing the landscape of my body.  You forced me to take poison that made me bald, tired and nauseated. My finances were strained.  My bones were weakened and I have to take pills that make me ache even to this day. My scars give me pain daily.  I had to cut you out of my life so I did ever so drastically by removing the very essence of womanhood – my breasts and my estrogen. I did so with no hesitation and with no regrets. I am defined by what is in my soul, you see.

I am not mad – my existing friendships deepened and I made new friends with people I may have never otherwise met.  At most you had my attention for a year and at the least, tested my will, my faith and my strength.  You will never destroy my surliness or my spirit.  Science will destroy you in the near future.  I will enjoy watching you slink away.  Sarah

Yopi Havlik, 46, married 21 years; 2 children ages 19 and 17; works at Fig Leaf Boutique fitting breast cancer patients. Diagnosed in 2002 with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma; underwent lumpectomy, 6 rounds of chemo and 7 weeks of radiation; currently suffers from lymphedema in left arm.

Yopi Havlik, 46, married 21 years; 2 children ages 19 and 17; works at Fig Leaf Boutique fitting breast cancer patients. Diagnosed in 2002 with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma; underwent lumpectomy, 6 rounds of chemo and 7 weeks of radiation; currently suffers from lymphedema in left arm.

Dear Cancer,

You probably don’t get many thanks, but strangely my letter to you is one of gratitude.  Many times in the past 12 years if I had written to you, it would have been a letter of hatred and contempt:  Dear stupid, mean cancer:  Why me?

Following successful treatment, I lived through years of good physical health, but increasing depression and anxiety.  Finally after years of struggle, I began to wonder if you had picked me for a good reason.  Once I started to look for it, things began to change.

You gave me the creativity to write and publish a children’s book to help other families facing breast cancer.   You gave me the strength to face my fears and join a breast cancer dragon boat team.  You gave me the compassion to change careers and begin working with other survivors battling you.

Through these things you have introduced me to some of the greatest women I have ever known.  Women whose lives never would have touched mine without you.

As a born pessimist, I never imagined I would beat you, let alone come out changed for the better.  For that, I thank you.  Yopi

Elizabeth Anderson, 36, works as Court Administrator for the City of Noblesville; diagnosed April 2011 with Ductal Carcinoma; currently takes tamoxifen.

Elizabeth Anderson, 36, works as Court Administrator for the City of Noblesville; diagnosed April 2011 with Ductal Carcinoma; currently takes tamoxifen.

Dear Breast Cancer,

I had only known you as a stranger in passing, coming in to my life through family and friends until that one day in April, 2011, you decided to become closer to me unexpectedly at 33 years old.

My doctor’s all say, I had one of the “better” cancer cases they have ever seen, I feel I need to say thank you for this and that I’m forever grateful and blessed we found you early and you weren’t as aggressive as you are normally in young women.

I have to thank you for forcing me to look inside myself and finding the strength and courage I didn’t realize I had, to overcome and conquer you to become a survivor.

The path that I had thought my life was taking was thrown completely out of synch when you encompassed my life and decided to become involved at the prime of my life.  I could remain resentful but I reprioritized and now focus on living in the moment.  You brought a new chapter to my life but you didn’t stop me from living.  I now recognize that with my faith, family and friends anything is possible.  Elizabeth

Linda Blair, 66, bus driver for Cathedral High School; married; 2 children; 6 grandchildren; diagnosed in 2013, had lumpectomy and 6 weeks of radiation.

Linda Blair, 66, bus driver for Cathedral High School; married; 2 children; 6 grandchildren; diagnosed in 2013, had lumpectomy and 6 weeks of radiation.

Dear Breast Cancer,

We’ve been acquaintances for about a year now, but prior to that, I had met your close relatives who also like to attack the female body – cancer of the bladder and ovarian cancer. You, however, were an interesting surprise.

We met in the fall of 2013, when you snuck into my right breast—and my life.  I had already been in remission for high-grade bladder cancer for the past seven years, and I had already been misdiagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2000.  But, having gone through this twice, I knew now not to be discouraged, not to give up hope, and not to quit my fight, which is what I’ve done.

You see, I’m an active grandmother, and I’m not through enjoying my life yet.  I’ve got a wonderful husband who has been my rock through this, I am active in church, and I’ve got children and grandchildren who I want to continue to spoil.

So while cancer may be the gift that keeps on giving, I’m like a Timex, and can take a licking and keep on ticking.  And you, breast cancer, haven’t licked me yet!  Linda


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