- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

STONEWOOD, W.Va. (AP) - It can be easy to take things in life for granted, but since being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, Brenda Williams no longer does.

“There’s just so much stuff that you take for granted on a daily basis, but when you go through something like this, you don’t take it for granted anymore,” Williams said.

Williams said she had a small lump in her breast for most of her life, but mammograms had shown that everything was fine.

“In November 2015, it got considerably larger within two months,” she said. “I went to see my regular doctor, and she did a mammogram ASAP. After they did that, I did an ultrasound. Within a week, which was a week before Christmas, I was diagnosed with cancer.”

Though Williams has a history of both breast and ovarian cancer in her family, it wasn’t a diagnosis she was prepared to hear herself.

“I was scared to death,” she said. “I was terrified. When I heard the oncologist tell me that it was cancer, I just fell apart. I was mad. I was scared. I just had so much running through my mind.”

From there, Williams said her treatment was on a fast track.

“By the last week of December, I had already had the lump removed, and they did a test on it,” she said. “Two of my lymph nodes tested positive also, so they started me on a very strong dose of chemotherapy.”

Williams finished her chemotherapy treatments in August and began radiation treatment.

“I was on four different chemo infusions, and of course they inserted the port, which I still have,” she said. “It was rough, but I managed. I had chemo every three weeks, and after my chemo, which was on Thursday, I had to have Friday, Saturday and Sunday off because it made me sick and tired.”

Each chemotherapy treatment would last two or three hours, but the emotional effects lasted much longer.

“I kind of went into a shell, and it took a lot of coaching from my husband,” Williams said. “I would sit and cry, but I wouldn’t say anything. It was in turn making me very mean toward my husband when he was only trying to help.”

Her husband, John, was there every step of the way, even as she began to lose her hair.

“My hair started thinning out, and I knew what was coming,” Williams said. “When it came to the point when there was just gobs of hair coming out, my husband shaved my head for me. He cried as much as I did.”

Williams said losing her hair was a difficult part of her cancer journey, one that she still has trouble dealing with.

“I feel uncomfortable with my image now,” she said. “I have one breast that is smaller than the other. My husband says he can’t see it, but I’m self-conscious about that.”

Peggy Johnson, a clinical navigator at the cancer center at United Hospital Center, has also been a tremendous support to Williams through this time.

“She has been through this, and she knew how I felt,” Williams said. “Some things you can’t talk to a man about because they don’t really understand, but she had been through this.”

Being a pharmacy technician at UHC, Williams said she was often able to turn to Johnson for help without needing to schedule appointments.

“I think Peggy understood how I felt before I did,” Williams said. “I cannot thank Peggy enough. Even now when I see her in the hospital, we still speak.”

Johnson said Williams always had a positive attitude.

Brenda is a very kind, happy, positive hard-working person,” she said. “During her treatments, I have watched her pass by my door on several occasions doing her job at UHC. She always has a smile on her face and kind words for the people she sees as she travels throughout hospital.”

Going through a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatments also helped Williams to reaffirm her faith.

“Most of my life I questioned it, but when this all started, I just had to stop and think,” Williams said. “If it hadn’t been for Him, I might not have made it this far. He was the biggest support system, and everybody else just fell in line.”

Now, Williams hopes that the worst of everything is behind her.

“Everything’s fine so far,” she said. “Now I’m on Herceptin, which is also a chemo drug, but it helps block the cells because what I have is aggressive. I’ll finish that up in January. So far everything’s OK.”

Leftover scar tissue from the surgery has still left Williams very sore and tender, which serves as a constant reminder of her cancer journey.

“This is aggressive, so it may come back; I’m kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said. “Everything is going good for me right now, but I’m just one of those people who has that in the back of my mind. Some people say it’s foolish, but it’s not to me.”

Williams said her main focus is getting everything in her life back to normal.

Christmas last year was very rough for us,” she said. “I didn’t do anything at Christmas, and I’m a Christmas person.”

This year, Williams said the family is already preparing for the holidays.

“My husband has already started decorating outside for Christmas,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the holidays. I’m looking forward to planning my daughter’s wedding for the spring, and I’m looking forward to grandchildren and all kinds of things.”

The family has also tried to spend more time traveling and enjoying one another’s company.

“Once I started feeling a little better, my husband and I started taking little trips, going out of town for a day,” she said. “My husband will ask me on my days off if I want to do something or go somewhere, and if we want to, we go. He will not tolerate me just sitting and thinking all the time.”


Information from: The Exponent Telegram, https://www.theet.com

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