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Fueled by faith: Early detection leads to breast cancer treatment

By Kristen Tribe | Published Wednesday, October 11, 2017
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Facing It Together

FACING IT TOGETHER – Marianne Henderson (right) said her husband, Joe Neil, is a huge part in her continued healing from a breast cancer diagnosis in 2015. They recently celebrated their 21st anniversary. Submitted photo

The night before her 2015 mammogram local business owner Marianne Henderson was struggling. She wanted to cancel her appointment because her family needed her.

Her father was having knee replacement surgery that same morning in McKinney, and she was heartsick at the thought of not being there for her mother. She wrestled with the quandary for quite some time, but upon hearing other family members would be present for her dad’s surgery, decided to go ahead with her mammogram.

His surgery was at 8 a.m. in McKinney, and Henderson’s mammogram was at 8:30 in Decatur.

“I was there by noon, kissed his head and was grateful all went well with his surgery,” she said. “I never even thought anything else about my mammogram.

“Then two days later I got a phone call.”

THE DIAGNOSIS

Due to the findings of the intial mammogram on Nov. 3, Henderson was told she needed a diagnostic mammogram.

This alone wasn’t alarming because the same follow-up procedure was required after her first-ever mammogram just a year-and-a-half earlier. At that time it was determined she has dense breast tissue.

When she got the call for another diagnostic image, she assumed it was the same issue. Her husband, Joe Neil, offered to go to the appointment with her, but she told him not to worry, she had been through this before.

After the diagnostic mammogram, the doctor wanted to immediately take another look with a sonogram.

“Should we call your husband?” the staff asked.

Henderson declined, waiting to see what, if anything, was found. It didn’t take long.

“I knew immediately something was wrong,” she said. “The tone of the room changed. The little lady that was there holding my hand … you could just tell she knew something was up.”

Henderson slowly turned to look at the monitor and could see vascular activity.

“It wasn’t just a shaded lump. It was blood flow,” she said. “I looked at the doctor and said, kind of joking, ‘something’s cooking in there isn’t it?’ and he said we needed to take a closer look.

“Then I called Joe Neil.”

Henderson said she felt a little out of control.

“It wasn’t anything I thought I’d have,” she said. “I felt like it was out of my hands initially, but spiritually, I knew differently.

“It was just that moment where your flesh interprets the news and you think, ‘this doesn’t match up.'”

The tumor, invasive ductal carcinoma 2 centimeters in size, was in her left breast. She had no history of breast cancer in her immediate family and had no symptoms prior to the mammogram. In fact, she couldn’t feel the tumor, even after she was diagnosed.

The doctors told her because of its location it would have been hard to detect without a mammogram.

THE TREATMENT

A biopsy was done the day following the sonogram, and then they waited.

After receiving the biopsy results, Henderson’s doctor said it would be OK to delay treatment until the first of the year. In the meantime, the couple kept the news to themselves.

“We didn’t even tell the kids until January,” Henderson said. “You never look at your child and say ‘today’s the day I’m going to tell them I have cancer.'”

Henderson described a night early in the process where she broke down, asking the age-old question, “Why me?”

“The moment I thought that, God just knocked me in the head, and honestly, in the same breath I thought why not me?” she said. “I had an amazing support system, incredible faith and was armed with the Word … I have an amazing Christian husband to hold me up and a family to support me. Some people don’t have any of that.

“I was equipped. I could do it,” she said. “I didn’t want to, but I could.”

In that moment, Henderson said she and Joe Neil decided they would help each other and march forward with a focus on healing. When they felt comfortable, they would share the news.

Over the course of time, she began sharing her story, hoping it would encourage others to not delay preventative medical procedures.

“I thought how many people are like me? They run the same kind of rat race and put others before themselves,” she said. “Then I had two friends diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. They didn’t have a mammogram to find it in their uterus or their esophagus.

“There wasn’t a way for them to be scanned and checked, but this can be done and it needs to be done,” she said, referencing mammograms for early detection of breast cancer.

Henderson had a lumpectomy in January. They also removed her lymph nodes as a precaution. Due to the size and make-up of the tumor, she qualified for a special radiation therapy – SAVI – which uses a bundle of tubes to deliver radiation from inside the breast. Radiation was administered twice a day for five days, and the doctor determined she did not need chemotherapy.

Immediately following the radiation she began taking a pill daily that acts as a type of chemo but without the harsh side effects. She said it keeps her body’s cells in check to prevent something from “flaring up.”

“I call it my blessing pill,” she said. “Thank you for the blessing that I didn’t have to have real chemo.”

She will take it every day for the next 10 years.

Raising Awareness

RAISING AWARENESS – Marianne Henderson (right) co-hosts Wise Health Foundation’s Dazzle Me Pink fundraiser with WFAA’s Colleen Coyle. Even though Henderson had been involved for years helping raise money for Mary’s Gift, which provides mammograms to men and women who might not be able to afford one, her own diagnosis caught her off guard. Submitted photo

ADVOCATE FOR DETECTION

Henderson said sometimes she’s hesitant to share her story because she didn’t have to undergo the harsh, more severe treatments commonly associated with breast cancer, and her heart goes out to those women. She doesn’t want to diminish their stories but instead encourage women to take advantage of the lifesaving checkups are available.

“You get your pap smear and you get your mammogram because those are two annual checks that can be lifesaving,” she said. “Some people have different kinds of cancer that can’t be detected until they’re all through their body, but these things … we can do.

“Women, we have got to listen to our spirit when we’re prompted to do something, especially when it involves self-care,” she said.

Henderson encourages women to take advantage of Mary’s Gift, which provides mammography services to hundreds of women – and men – who might not otherwise be able to afford them. It’s administered by Wise Health Foundation and funded by community donations and fundraisers.

“Our community has embraced it and funded it, and there is plenty of money,” she said. “People just need to apply for it. There’s no excuse.”

Henderson acknowledges that many women are moms and wives with job and volunteer obligations, but they must make their own health a priority.

“We’re the last thing we worry about,” she said. “In my normal pattern, if I had canceled that mammogram, I would have called a month later to reschedule and then it would have been another couple of months before I got in.”

If detection had been delayed by even a few months, she said her story might be different.

“Some cancers and illnesses blindside us, but this, we can detect,” she said.

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