Brenda Scott and Lou Landers stand side-by-side, paint rollers in hand. Pink paint runs together as they leave their mark during the pink line ceremony, part of the “Paint the Town Pink” festivities Friday at the Square in Decatur.The mother-daughter breast cancer survivors can’t help but smile at one another, supporting each other just as they did during their bouts with the disease.
“I knew Mother was tough enough, and she made it,” Scott said. “If she was strong enough and tough enough, then I could do it.”
Scott is a 19-year breast cancer survivor, her mother a 27-year survivor.
Landers, now 84, was diagnosed in March 1985, at age 57. But on her journey, she learned the importance of multiple consultations.
“I had an awful pain over my breast, and I made an appointment with my doctor,” she said. “He said, ‘Oh, it’s just a milk gland.’
“Well a month or two later, my husband had to go see his doctor, and I thought, ‘This would be a good time for me to get a second opinion.’ So I did,” she continued. “I no more than had my exam and he was having his nurse call Denton to make an appointment for a mammogram.”
That mammogram revealed a lump the size of a golfball.
“Second opinions help,” Scott said. “But the woman’s got to be the advocate to do that. Everybody’s body and everybody’s mammograms are different. But you’ve got to be the one that’s the advocate for yourself.”
Within three days of the diagnosis, Landers underwent a radical mastectomy.
“They removed the muscle, the breast, the lymph nodes in the right side,” Scott said.
Landers underwent six months of chemotherapy in Fort Worh. Scott, her sister Leda Read and their father, the late Byrl Landers, took turns driving her to the treatments.
“We would take her down there, and we’d take turns going out to her house and fixing supper when she didn’t feel good, after surgery,” Scott said. “I remember going out there fixing fish, but Daddy sat there and told me how to fix the fish … It’s not like you have to or you’re supposed to. You just do it.”
Despite the harsh nature of the appointments, the bond between the two was strengthened and more pleasant memories made.
“Every time we’d leave there, we had to stop and get something to eat,” Landers recalled. “We had to have our Braum’s fix. We’d have to stop in for a scoop of a ice cream.”
“I think that’s only reason she wanted to go to chemo,” her daughter added with a laugh.
Following the treatment, Landers went into remission and has had no more sign of cancer.
“After I had my chemo, I was finished with all of that,” she said. “No reoccurence. Knock on wood.”
Then the tables turned.
Women with a family history of breast cancer are advised to start having mammograms 10 years before the youngest diagnosis. For Scott, now 52, that meant at age 47.
“But I had a very good gynecologist, and he told me to start having mammograms when I was 32,” she said. “I had had one before the one where they found the lump.”
In Nov. 1993, eight years after her mother’s diagnosis, Scott found herself in the same position at age 33.
“It was kind of unbelievable,” her mother said. “That wasn’t supposed to happen. But we just did the best we could.”
However, the mass in Scott’s right breast wasn’t discovered through the mammogram.
“They found it with the ultrasound they did with the mammogram,” Scott said. “When you’re younger, they can see more with an ultrasound than a mammogram. I went back and hugged the girl’s neck that was the technician. She was on her toes. She did what she was supposed to and essentially saved my life.”
Scott wasted no time in declaring war against the disease. The lump was discovered on a Thursday. She went to see the surgeon, the same one her mother used, the next day. That Monday she had a biopsy, and two days later she had a mastectomy.
“It was fast,” she said. “I had no time to think. It’s the way I wanted it. Get it out, get it done. I don’t want it in me anymore. I was just very lucky doctors, insurance – everything fell into place.”
She began 10 rounds of chemo, one every three weeks, on Dec. 11, 1993. And just as her daughter did for her, Landers accompanied Scott to each treatment.
“Even though treatments took four to five hours, she would just read a magazine, read a book and wait for me,” Scott said.
“You did it for me,” Landers pointed out.
Unlike her mother, who received the treatment via IV, Scott was treated via a port. The half-dollar sized device features a hard back, soft front and two tubes that go into the veins.
“You have to have surgery to have it inserted,” she said. “With its soft front, they kind of just poke a needle right into it and don’t have to have an IV … They do that so they don’t tear up your veins. Because when you’ve had your mastectomy and they remove your lymph nodes, you can never have blood pressure, IVs or anything in that arm again.”
Patients have the device removed – some sooner than others. Never one to waste any time, Scott waited less than half-a-year to dispatch hers.
“I pushed and pushed my doctor,” she said. “I finished my chemo in June, and he took mine out in November. I didn’t want it anymore … He says that a lot of people will leave it in for up to two years. It’s like a security blanket. Not for me. I was done, finished.”
Another difference was the setting of the treatments. Landers received chemotherapy at a hospital, but Brenda was treated in a doctor’s office.
And the treatments affected the women differently. Landers kept all of her hair, while Scott lost everything but her eyelashes.
“It was kind of nice though,” she said. “I didn’t have to shave my legs for six months. You lose ALL your hair; you don’t just lose the hair on your head.
“The first two rounds of medication that they gave me, a dark, dark red medicine – that’s the strongest,” she explained. “It kills off all your living cells to start repairing your new cells. That’s why your hair falls out.
“It was so different from when Mother went through it,” she continued. “She got a sore throat every time she got chemo, but she didn’t lose any of her hair. It’s different from everyone.”
Despite the differences, their situations were similar in that neither fell violently sick. And like her mother, Scott has not had a recurrence.
“We were very blessed,” Scott said. “I would get sick. It felt like morning sickness, but I would drink a Sprite, eat some crackers and was fine. I didn’t get mouth sores. Neither did Mother. We were lucky.”
No matter who sat in the driving seat or who held the other’s hand, both agree they could not have done it without the other’s help.
“You’ve got to have your support system,” Scott said. “Caregivers are important. They’re the ones that hold your hand.”
“Or pull into Braum’s for you to get your ice cream fix,” Landers interjected.
But the network of support extends beyond those readily available.
“You know who your true friends are when you go through something like that,” Scott said. “Everyone comes out of the woodwork right at first. But your true friends stick with you 19 years later.”
She singled out Jeanne Fox, who sent her a card that arrived the day after each treatment, and longtime friend Karen Fox, who shaved her hair.
“Not many people can do that,” Scott said. “They might not pick up the phone to call. But things like that card in my mailbox were very special to me. People don’t realize that just a little simple card, a phone call means a lot. People are there for you. They may not say a word, but they’re there.”
She also cited the cooperation of her co-workers at James Wood Motors when she asks that they wear pink every Friday in October, and people who dropped off hats after she lost her hair.
She also recalled the silent support of former coworker Tamara Stephens supportthat is still apparent, 19 years later.
“I worked at the county clerk’s office when I went through it. Tamara sat next to me, and whenever I would go to chemo, I would get real nervous and agitated, and I would turn the air conditioner down,” she said. “She would never say a word. She would take her sweater that was on the back of her chair, put it on and not say a word about it.
“Even now, when I go back for my yearly checkup, I’ll call her and tell her. And she’ll tell the girls she works with, ‘I’m putting my sweater on for Brenda.’ Things like that mean the world to me.”
Acknowledging the blessing of their circumstances and the people that helped them through, both women strive to pay it forward.
“We’re lucky we have good medical people and doctors. We’re very blessed. Guardian angels are watching over us,” Scott said. “And maybe you pay that forward by saying something or doing something to help somebody else. So many people did it for us. It only makes sense.”
AFTER THE FACT
Both women have made accommodations to the effects of the chemo. Landers uses a machine and Scott a compression sleeve to help boost circulation in the arms from which the lymph nodes were removed.
“When that happens, you need something to circulate all the fluid in your arms,” Scott said. “(The sleeve and the machine) keeps the skin mashed down to where the fluid doesn’t become stagnant. That’s just us. Some may not have a swelling problem at all. You just never know. Chemo affects everyone so different.”
Scott also pointed out the effects of “chemobrain.”
“It’s a proven fact – you can’t think clearly, can’t think completely,” she said. “But you get it back, and you get going again.”
They also take extra precautions, such as more frequent breast exams and keeping a closer eye on injuries to avoid complications.
“But you know, if the cancer is gone, and we’re still here wearing a little elastic sleeve, no big deal,” Scott said. “You can’t sit back and cry about it. Because it’s done; it happened. It’s something you just don’t get over.
“Time heals all wounds, but you just don’t get over it. You’re just blessed that you have good doctors, that you have medicine that helps you, that you’re still here.”