Survivors: Be positive and surround yourself with support

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and there are many local residents whose lives have been impacted by this terminal illness.

Portales resident Julie Miller, who is a breast cancer survivor, gave some insight into what combating this dreadful disease is like.

“My family, like myself, was devastated to hear the news, but we were always very positive. My mother had breast cancer, although it wasn’t the same kind that I was dealing with; mine was estrogen related,” said Miller, who was diagnosed with stage zero cancer in February of 2006.

“Getting the news was scary,” said Miller, but she heeded to the doctor’s advice that she have tissue removed then possibly undergo radiotherapy or get a mastectomy. She never underwent radiotherapy, because she chose to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction. A mastectomy is when doctors attempt to remove cancerous parts around the breast or remove the breast as a whole.

Miller said for a few years, she would take trips to the oncologist every six months.

“Once I was 10 years cancer free, the doctor told me I graduated, and I didn’t have to come back anymore. This was a tremendous weight off of my shoulders,” said Miller. “I try to take better care of myself, and I thank God for taking care of me and pray that he continues to. I have a very supportive family and my life is good. I feel very fortunate, because I know there are a lot of people that aren’t that lucky.”

Miller stressed that it is important to take care of your body and go to the doctor for checkups often. She also stressed for anyone recently diagnosed or currently battling cancer to, it is important to stay positive and work with their doctors.

“I was very fortunate that my doctors caught it an early stage,” said Miller, who currently reaches out to help others dealing with cancer by offering support and advice.

Another Portales resident and survivor, Victoria Garrett, revealed just how hard cancer can really be. Garret was diagnosed in February of 2006 at Harrington Cancer Center in Amarillo, Texas.

“Immediately, I thought that I needed to do whatever I had to beat this,” said Garrett.

When doctors found the cancer, she was already at stage two, and the disease had moved into her lymph nodes. A partial mastectomy was undergone where doctors removed the sentinel lymph nodes, which are closest to the breast. Samples from these nodes showed signs of cancer, placing Garrett at stage two cancer. Doctors went back in and removed 11 more lymph nodes that were tested and showed negative results.

“I decided to receive chemotherapy at HCC. The doctors then decided that I needed radiotherapy which I received from Plains Regional Cancer Center in Clovis,” said Garrett. “My husband was very concerned for me. He was awesome. He drove me back and forth from Amarillo every two weeks for I don’t know how long. It felt like ages. He was my strong, silent hero. He never complained, not even a sigh. My daughters and their families were nothing but loving, supportive, and caring.”

She described chemotherapy as being miserable with her hair and fingernails falling out, and she had a very easily upset stomach. Because your hair, nails, and digestive tract contain fast growing cells, the chemotherapy targets those cells in the hope of stopping the cancer, Garrett explained.

“My life views have changed, but I try to look at this like a hiccup on the road of my life. I like to think that I am back on track. I was lucky that it was only stage two. Surviving it is awesome and amazing, but for those that aren’t as fortunate, they were awesome for fighting,” said Garrett, whose husband, Roger, passed away six and a half years ago from lung cancer that spread all over his body. Garrett expressed that she got to be there for him the way he was for her, but he didn’t survive, and time was too short.

Both survivors expressed that taking care of your body and going in to get checked is important.

Both women said family members being present and supportive meant a lot and dramatically boosted their outlooks on life.

“You can choose to take it as a death sentence, and you can be negative, or you can be positive and proactive,” said Miller.

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