By Heather Mullinix
Glenna Hall and her daughter, Melissa “Missy” Christian, have a lot in common.
Both have a love of family. Both believe a positive attitude is the key to a full and happy life. And both are breast cancer survivors.
Glenna was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2001 after she noticed the skin of her breast was dimpled. She didn’t yet feel a tumor, but she checked with her doctor who sent her for a mammogram.
She had a mastectomy and followed up with an oncologist for treatment afterward.
“I did well,” Glenna said.
Since 2001, she hasn’t missed her yearly mammogram, and she continues with the regular breast self exams.
In January 2011, her mother, Margaret McCampbell, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The tumor was to the point it could be felt and, though Margaret didn’t want to bother with a mammogram or doctor’s visits, daughter Glenna wouldn’t hear of it.
She also needed surgery. Because of the localized nature of the tumor, follow-up treatment with chemotherapy or radiation wasn’t necessary.
“I think she did better than I did, at her age. She was a strong woman,” Glenna said.
Mrs. McCampbell passed away earlier this year at her home, though not related to her breast cancer diagnosis. She was 87.
This year, in May, Missy underwent surgery for a double mastectomy after a mammogram identified a suspicious spot.
“My tumor was on the same side and almost the same location as Momma’s,” she said.
With her family history of breast cancer, Missy, 40, had had a mammogram when she was 35, and everything was fine.
“I know I should have kept up with them, but you get busy and I just didn’t,” she said. “This year, something was pressing on my mind that I needed to get a mammogram. When I didn’t get the follow up letter, I knew something was wrong.”
A follow-up mammogram found a spot, not very big at all, that was later determined to be cancer. After her surgery, pathology found another spot in another part of the breast.
“It may have be that spot was just missed, or the cancer could have been growing faster than we thought,” Missy said. “The Lord blessed me in it being found before it got bad.”
When she learned she had cancer, Missy said she knew the route she wanted to take, opting for the double mastectomy to be followed by reconstructive surgery later.
“I saw Momma go through the biopsies and I didn’t want to have to go through all of that,” she said. “I have two small children. I wanted to do it and get it done.”
“I watched you [Glenna] go through it and I already made up my mind if it ever happened to me, what I would do. I did what I had already decided.”
Both Glenna and Missy said they were fortunate. Their cancer diagnosis came early in the disease and was quickly treated.
“You need to stay on top of your health,” Glenna said.
Missy added women needed to advocate for their health and trust their instincts.
“If you have a feeling something’s wrong, you need it. You know your body,” she said.
Glenna added, “Mine was maybe pea size. It was still in the beginning. I felt fortunate the Lord was watching after me and taking care of me.”
After a diagnosis of breast cancer, both women also stressed the importance of talking with your doctors about treatment options and getting all your questions answers. Though Missy had been through the process before with her mother, and had made a decision to have a double mastectomy before she was even diagnosed, her surgeon, Dr. Mark Fox (who was also Glenna’s surgeon), insisted she listen to all the options available to her and still take time to think about breast removal.
And then, with a treatment plan in place and support at the ready, you go forward.
“Yes, it’s a big deal. But you do what you have to do,” Missy said.
Glenna recalls spending several days in the hospital following her surgery, while Missy was home sooner.
But Missy recalled her mother’s brave attitude following her surgery.
“We were all scared to death. She was fine,” she said.
Glenna said that’s because her family was there for her, including her brother from out of state. But the biggest help was her husband, Harold, and children, Missy and Johnny.
“I worried about my husband, but he was great. I couldn’t have asked for anyone to be any better.
Glenna added, “It sounds strange to say, but I just didn’t worry about it too much. I just trusted that the Lord would help me through the treatments.”
Missy also found a bevy of support from her family and friends and coworkers.
“To know people genuinely care for you, that helps more than anything,” Missy said. “I’d rather be like Momma. She’s a strong woman. When you’ve got kids to take care of or a house to take care of, you’ve got to do it.”
Glenna turned to her daughter and said, “I thought you were awful brave, having the double mastectomy.”
Both said it takes time to get used to your new body. And though Missy plans to have reconstructive surgery, both have found prostheses helpful following a mastectomy.
“It’s not that I think I need this to feel like a woman,” Missy said. “But it’s more convenient. There’s dressy shirts you can’t really wear without the prostheses or reconstruction.”
Glenna added, “It’s what’s inside that makes a person. Not the outside.”
She noted her husband, Harold, was incredibly supportive of her following surgery. “He always said he’d rather have me any day as to worry about that [the mastectomy].”
They found tremendous support in the medical community, from their physicians writing the initial orders for mammograms to their surgeon, both saw Dr. Mark Fox, and oncologist, both saw Dr. Mark Hendrixson. Following their surgeries, they found help from certified mastectomy prostheses fitter Brenda G’Fellers, who is also a breast cancer survivor.
“We’ve got a lot of good people here to offer support,” said Glenna.
Missy said she couldn’t be happier with the care she received from all the doctors and nurses involved in her treatment.
“They take the time to explain everything to you,” she said.
Because three generations of the family had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, Dr. Hendrixson, suggested she have genetic testing for the BRCA1 gene mutation. A positive test would have meant both her son and daughter would need to be watched for possible breast cancer at a younger age. BRCA1 produces tumor suppressor proteins, but mutations increase the risk of breast cancer and other types of cancer.
Missy tested negative.
“My kids don’t have that big worry,” Missy said.
She didn’t share her diagnosis with her children, ages 7 and 10, because she learned she wouldn’t need chemotherapy and she didn’t want to scare them.
“We just told them I needed surgery and everything would be fine,” she said. “I know some people say you need to tell the kids what’s going on, but I knew my daughter. She’s seven. She’s a worrier.”
Glenna agreed, “You know what’s best for your kids.”
But both urge women to stay vigilant with their regular self exams and regular mammograms.
“I recommend everybody staying on top of your self exams. It’s easy to get complacent, but people need to know it’s so much easier and better if you find it early,” Glenna said.