Like hundreds of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, life can be complicated.
But, with time, faith, patience and good sense, those pieces eventually come together.
And it creates a wonderful picture. One of good life, good times — and in Phyllis Lawson’s case, a picture of good health in beating breast cancer.
She got hooked on working jigsaw puzzles when she was a child, growing up in rural Whitley County.
“During the wintertime months when I was young, my dad used to play checkers with me, and we used to work puzzles all the time,” Phyllis said during an interview.
For much of her years, life wasn’t puzzling at all to Phyllis.
She married Edward Lee Lawson, had two sons, Gavin and Philip, and the family lived north of Williamsburg. “Lee,” as he was called, served as a deacon in their church, and taught Sunday School for over 40 years. To this day, she continues to find strength in her faith, by attending services at Savoy Baptist Church on a regular basis.
Phyllis also took care of her health, too. She did breast self-exams on a regular basis. Several years before the year 2000 — the last year of the 20th Century — she discovered something wasn’t right, and went to the doctor.
“I had been diagnosed with fibrocystic breast disease. They explained to me that it was a thickening of the breast tissue, and it was nothing to be concerned about,” she recalled.
According to the website healthline.com, fibrocystic breast disease — also called fibrocystic breasts or fibrocystic change — is a benign, non-cancerous condition where a woman has painful lumps in her breasts.
While fibrocystic breast disease isn’t dangerous, it’s more bothersome because it can cause discomfort. It’s also common, with about 60 percent of women developing the disease at some point in their life.
But the condition can make breast cancer detection more difficult.
“At first, my gynecologist said they wouldn’t put me on hormone replacement therapy, or HRT. A few years later, the gynecologist wanted me on HRT. Saying the advantages outweigh the risks, he wanted me to take it. I took HRT, and I was on it for six years,” stated Phyllis.
Some three years into taking HRT, she did her usual self-exam. Phyllis found a place that was thicker than normal, and went to her family doctor to be examined.
“He didn’t say anything about thickening, or finding a lump or anything. He sent me to the hospital for a mammogram, and the test turned out normal. The next year we did the same thing, and it came back normal again,” she said.
Another year came, and another appointment. Phyllis did yet another self-examination.
It was Dec. 2000, and the holidays were in full swing.
“This time, I found an external growth that came on the outside. As soon as the doctor saw that, he made me an appointment with the surgeon. The surgeon did a biopsy. It was before Christmas,” she noted.
And Phyllis wouldn’t get the results back until after Christmas Day.
“It was on my mind all Christmas long. That’s a terrible thing to think about during the holidays. It wasn’t the best Christmas that year, because of wondering what the results would be. I believe got the results back on December 28, 2000,” she pointed out.
The results confirmed Phyllis had breast cancer.
She remembered the ride back from the doctor’s office was long and mind-numbing.
“I told my husband, ‘With the Lord’s help, we were going to beat this thing.’ I give Him all the credit,” said Phyllis.
The 21st Century began on Jan. 1, 2001. A few days later on Jan. 12, she had surgery for breast cancer in Corbin, at what was then known as Baptist Regional Medical Center.
Phyllis answered, “The surgery went fine. No complications, no chemo, no radiation. I took Tamoxifen for five years, and I’ve been on Arimidex for over seven years. I’ll continue to take that for the rest of my life. I’m taking that instead of chemo. My cancer doctor told me I made the right choice.”
Prior to the surgery, she was a Head Start/Preschool teacher in Whitley County for several years. Phyllis went back to work seven weeks later. Her doctor said it was the best thing she could do.
Phyllis retired in 2003.
Her husband, Lee — the love of her life — passed away in March 2011.
After he died, she looked at the pieces of her life, and found a old friend for comfort. It was something from her past she remembered fondly.
“I read a lot at first. And my brother’s retired and lives in northern Kentucky. He started doing jigsaw puzzles. That sounded good to me,” Phyllis said.
In the wintertime, from January until the end of March, she sits down and puts the pieces of the puzzles together.
Just like she did when she was a child.
“I like puzzles that feature landscapes, buildings and boats on the water. It passes the time real good, and you forget about your worries. For my brother, the more pieces of the puzzle, the better. But for me, under a thousand pieces will do. The pieces all come together,” noted Phyllis.
She reads her Bible a lot, too. along with going to church regularly. And she adores her family.
There are other pieces in the puzzle of life she still puts together. And they form new pictures with each passing day.
Looking at some pictures her daughter-in-law brought to the interview in Corbin, she pointed to a family photo taken in July of 1998.
There she was, with her husband “Lee,” along with her sons, Gavin and Philip..
Gavin and his wife Rhonda have a daughter, Rebecca. It was the first grandchild for Phyllis and Lee.
The 1998 picture was from Philip’s wedding. And from that day on, Philip and his bride Angela settled into married life.
On July 15 of this year, they announced the birth of a son, Samuel Lee Lawson.
It was the second grandchild for Phyllis, and her first granddaughter.
Earlier this year, another landmark event. The birth of Zechariah Conn, son of William and Rebecca Conn.
Zechariah — Phyllis’ first great-grandchild — is now seven months old.
And Phyllis Lawson is cancer-free. For almost 13 years.
For her life, and her health, the pieces in the puzzle have come together.
“You can beat it. You can go on, and you can have a normal life. I think early detection was the key for me. It all worked out for the good,” she said.
Phyllis Lawson cancer-free for nearly 13 years
Like hundreds of pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, life can be complicated.
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