07 Jan 2013
Debbie Freer was a young mother of 31 when she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer twenty-two years ago. Her children were 1, 2 and 4 years old, and her prognosis for long term survival was very poor. Here is her incredible story of overcoming the odds. DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT I noticed a swollen area on my breast that looked like a shadow. It turned out to be quite a sizeable lump. I had been getting regular exams, but this didn't show up before. My initial reaction was one of complete shock. It was obvious I was in trouble. The prognosis was not good, but I felt confident that I had to be here to see my children grown and raised. "It's very important to go to a cancer center where they are doing research and get other opinions. Continually ask questions and learn as much as you can...knowledge is powerful." I had a mastectomy on the left side, then the doctor suspected that this might be a "mirror-type" tumor and show up on the right side. He was right, and it had spread into my lymph nodes as well. I went to a cancer center in Houston, Texas, where they put me on a new, aggressive chemotherapy protocol. They needed to remove my ovaries to suppress the estrogen that would feed the tumor. In 1986 I had breast reconstruction. IN THE TRENCHES I had so much support from family and friends. And I felt a responsibility to be as educated as I could about the disease. It's important that people make informed decisions. I hear stories from women whose doctors say, "Let's just watch this tumor for a while." That makes me crazy! I believe in being as aggressive as possible when it comes to treatment. I feel like younger women are often an underserved group. Throughout my treatment and surgeries, I felt like I was stripped of my femaleness. I had no breasts, no hair and no ovaries. It was like I had been neutered. And the decision to have more children had been taken away from me. "It's very important to go to a cancer center where they are doing research and get other opinions. Continually ask questions and learn as much as you can...knowledge is powerful." - Debbie Freer One day as I was trying to explain my surgery and my cancer to my 4-year old son, he said, "Both breasts? Well you know Mom, you're not nursing us anymore so I guess you don't need them." LESSONS LEARNED It's very important to go to a cancer center where they are doing research and get other opinions. Continually ask questions and learn as much as you can...knowledge is powerful. Listen to your instincts. And keep your sense of humor! Prior to my reconstruction, some kids in my son's class were discussing their moms' breast size, in a way only kids can. Finally my son piped up and said, "Well if you really want to know something, my mom can put hers on and take them off!" The kids were amazed. It's been such a treat to get involved with groups like the PBCC. Your organization is doing so much. You may never really know how many lives you've saved or be able to collect any hard data, but you remind women to get their check-ups and women learn from your conferences. And you do this in a powerful and enlightening way with a minimum of staff. I think a lot of organizations can learn from you.