TIMES TRIBUNE (CORBIN, Ky.)
By John L. Ross / Staff Writer
It was a Wednesday.
That’s what Wilma Lester remembers when discussing her battle with breast cancer.
“I found out on July 14, 2005,” she said.
While mammograms often are key in discovering the early stages of breast cancer, doctors have long advised women (and increasingly, men) to do breast self-examinations.
The 77-year-old Lester practiced this procedure — and on that Wednesday in 2005 she got a nasty surprise.
“During a self-exam I found a nodule,” Lester said.
That Thursday she was in her doctor’s office.
“By Friday I was at the breast center,” Lester said.
Her concerns began months before that fateful Wednesday.
“Six months before that, I got the feeling something was not quite right,” she recalls — but said at that time all the tests proved her wrong.
But not this time.
“This time I had the feeling something was not right — and I was right this time,” Lester said.
Then she faced deciding on treatment options — all with the determined hope of survival.
So, less than one month after finding the nodule — Wilma Lester made a “radical” choice.
She underwent surgery on Aug. 5, 2005 and had a mastectomy.
“They (also) removed the lymph nodes from under my arm,” she added. “And then I went through chemotherapy for five years after that.”
Some prescriptions did give her trouble — one side effect was a very bad cough, she said.
But while facing the physical turmoil in her life — she was handed yet another bombshell.
“Meanwhile, my husband was having a lot of trouble breathing and was coughing,” Lester said.
Her husband, Delmar Lester, 71, was taken to the doctor — and soon after was diagnosed with lung cancer. “On October 6, 2005, he had lung surgery,” she said. “And he survived (that surgery) for 11 months.”
During his hospital stay, Lester said her husband “got an infection on the third day” after his surgery.
“He was on a ventilator for two months,” she said. “Things were pretty dramatic around here.”
So while she was slowly recovering from her surgery and enduring the chemotherapy treatment — she was trying to provide care for her husband.
He succumbed to his battle with cancer on July 24, 2006.
“I became depressed — between this with myself and then him,” she said. “I was really sad — just sad.”
But the Williamsburg resident made a decision.
“I got through it,” Lester said. “And I’ve gone on with my life.”
The eight-year survivor said she has had no recurrences, no problems, and is not on any medication.
“There’s nothing I can’t do,” she said, adding she doesn’t let fear of cancer stop her.
“I’ve gone ahead with my life,” she said again, explaining she and her doctors continue to monitor her progress. “You never know when it might surface again.”
While many women with breast cancer fear losing either one or both breasts, Lester was surprised. “I thought I would have a problem with it,” she said — adding she had the full support of her late husband. “Delmar went right along with me.”
The mother, grandmother and great-grandmother continues to love life. “I’m thankful I’m still here and in as good of shape as I am,” Lester said.
Lester remains cancer-free.
“As of today — well, I had my last MRI in April — I’m still OK,” she said.
Lester is a huge proponent of self-examinations.
“I encourage women to do the self-exam and get mammograms,” Lester urged. “I think it is very important and can save a lot of lives — it saved mine.”
Some things to watch for when conducting a breast self-exam, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s website, include the following:
— Nipple tenderness or a lump or thickening in or near the breast or underarm area;
— A change in the skin texture or an enlargement of pores in the skin of the breast (some describe this as similar to an orange peel’s texture)
— A lump in the breast (It’s important to remember that all lumps should be investigated by a healthcare professional, but not all lumps are cancerous.)
— Any unexplained change in the size or shape of the breast
— Dimpling anywhere on the breast
— Unexplained swelling of the breast (especially if on one side only)
— Unexplained shrinkage of the breast (especially if on one side only)
— Recent asymmetry of the breasts (Although it is common for women to have one breast that is slightly larger than the other, if the onset of asymmetry is recent, it should be checked.)
— Nipple that is turned slightly inward or inverted
— Skin of the breast, areola, or nipple that becomes scaly, red, or swollen or may have ridges or pitting resembling the skin of an orange
— It is also important to note that a milky discharge that is present when a woman is not breastfeeding should be checked by her doctor, although it is not linked with breast cancer.
That same website (http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam) also offers step-by-step instructions on performing a breast self-exam.