A mother, A wife, A survivor
By Faye Ellison
Each day that passes, each week, each month, each year, Shirley Brown inches farther from a memory she still relives like it was yesterday.
In April 1975, Shirley found a lump in her breast during a self examination. That little lump changed her life so much. She, a mother, wife and woman, found that though she was young, she was not untouchable from a disease that continues to touch so many lives to this day.
“I discovered the lump in my breast myself,” she said.
The lump was malignant. Nine little letters lined up to mark a tragic event in her life. As a 31-year-old, it was surreal to hear that she was stricken with something that she thought was meant for older women.
Brown saw her doctor who sent her to an oncologist who performed a biopsy to find if the lump was benign or something more serious.
“When the doctor did the biopsy, I remember waking up and he told me that it was malignant and they were going to have to do more surgery,” Shirley said. “My heart skipped a couple of beats and there was a sinking feeling. It was so unbelievable. I pulled the sheet up over my head. I just had to cover up my head and cry. I couldn’t look at the doctor or say anything. It was just like I had to bury myself under the sheet.”
Who knew that one word could change so much.
“This is not anything anybody wants to hear,” she said. “I really didn’t think it was malignant. I just wanted to be in denial. When I was young, you didn’t know a lot of people with cancer. It was not like it is now. You didn’t know anybody my age that had it. It was just a shock. It almost took my breath away, it was just a blow and heaviness in my chest. I got a pain in my throat and I couldn’t say anything.”
It was not the last time, Brown heard the word delivered by a doctor. She was also diagnosed a short time ago to have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in her neck.
“Even since then my faith has grown so much, but it was like almost that same feeling,” she explained. “Almost immediately tears came in my eyes. You just don’t want to hear it. Everybody who has ever heard it knows it has a powerful impact on you.”
It was her faith in God sustained her through this difficult time in her life. Besides she was not going anywhere, she was the mother of a little girl and she wanted nothing more in her life than to be there for her to watch her grow up.
“Through any adversity I’ve ever faced in life, my faith in God has sustained me,” she said. “Because of my faith I have to give God credit. I know he works through the doctors who helped heal me. My ultimate faith is in Him. ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ That verse is something I’ve always clung to.”
The technology and the procedures for treating breast cancer has changed a lot in the 33 years since her first diagnosis. In 1975, Brown had a had a radical mastectomy of her right breast. She explained that doctors also cut much of the muscle and flesh out near her sternum.
At the time she had a poor prognosis, with doctors giving her six months to one year to live.
“They didn’t give my family a lot of hope,” Brown said. “The doctor didn’t even tell me, but he did tell my husband and he was so devastated.
“My family knew it and didn’t say anything to me about it for a long time. My family and friends had just an outpouring of love and attention on me. I should have thought that something was going on, but they were optimistic, they were supportive, we didn’t cry, there was no discussion of death or mention that I might die.”
Not only did Brown face her life as a recovering cancer patient, she had to face it without one of her breasts.
“Of course, being 31, you know I was young, I just felt like maybe I lost some of my femininity,” she said. “I lost part of something that makes me a woman. But I will say this I was so grateful to be living and I wanted to live to raise my child so that I didn’t dwell on that. Even then they had prosthesis that feel and look natural and I had great support from my husband.
“All of my life I have been so grateful that I survived. My gratitude for living has really outweighed any negative aspect of it.”
At the time, Brown compared her mastectomy to a hysterectomy in how long it would take her to recover. She knew that many women would recover in four weeks.
“My family was all concerned because I just had gone through this radical surgery which was very painful and took me some months to get over it,” she said. “I kept thinking in four weeks I would be fine. But in four weeks I still had pain, in eight weeks I still had pain and in 12 weeks I was still sore.”
Looking back, Shirley continues her crusade to encourage women young or old to do self breast exams.
“It is just so important to do a self breast exam,” she said. “Sometimes women or men can have lumps. It is so simple to do a self breast exam and it is just of the utmost importance. Women should not ignore it, especially now that they can diagnose it easier. There is so much technology and different kinds of treatments. There is so much success, people can be encouraged even more so than we were back then.”
Shirley also wants to encourage women and men to have mammograms for early detection and prevention.
“Through the years there were times when I would wonder if I would have it again, but I try to never dwell on it. Somewhere I think just having a great faith in God and being positive all is going to be well has kept me through some of the toughest times in my life.”
SCLC holds countywide unity rally
By Carol McLeod
About 100 people attended a Mass Unity Rally sponsored the Jefferson County chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference held on the courthouse lawn in Louisville on Saturday, Sept. 27.
Officers of the local chapter were sworn in by Superior Court Judge Bobby Reeves.
Reeves also spoke to the group, praising the SCLC’s origins and positive impact on the civil rights movement.
“I am honored to participate in this meeting of this great organization, with its roots deeply embedded in the hard clay of the civil rights struggles of the 1950s, and its branches extending into every area of the 21st century,” Reeves said.
Reeves mentioned the founding of the SCLC by people he called great leaders. Those founders included the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Ella Baker.
“(T)he Southern Christian Leadership Conference has been at the forefront in promoting spiritual principles within its membership and local communities; educating youth and adults in the areas of personal responsibility, leadership potential and community service; ensuring economic justice and civil rights in the areas of discrimination and affirmative action; and eradicating environmental classism and racism wherever it exists,” the judge said.
“We need this sort of leadership now just as much as ever. In that connection, I need, and ask for, your help,” he said.
Reeves said he often sees young defendants with no direction, no goals and no options.
He said he, with the help of others, has planned and is implementing initiatives to create options, provide incentives, provide mentoring and change lives of young people who come to his court room as defendants.
At that time, Reeves said, the defendants have either worked out a plea bargain or they are appearing before a jury.
“I think you’ll agree with me that what we’re doing now is not working,” he said. “They give me a detention center. They give me a prison and that’s all I have.”
The judge said the community, the district attorneys and the defense attorneys can work together to provide alternatives to young people to help lead them from a life of crime.
“Then, together, you, with them, can meet with the judge to chart a plan of action. I want more options. But I have to have someone standing with the young defendant willing to help. This can, and will, work,” he said.
“So it is time for a bold initiative to change the way we encounter these young people. What better organization than this one to embark on a bold initiative? Look at what it has done in the past. I submit there is more work to be done, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is the perfect organization to make this change happen. Together we can make a difference. I am ready to go to work if you will join me,” Reeves said.
Hayward Altman, the district attorney elect, gave a financial appeal and asked for community support.
“Like the judge pointed out, it is up to you to help us to help them,” he said.
“The best place to go for inspiration is the Bible,” Altman said and talked about the Biblical story where Jesus took five loaves of bread and some fish and fed a multitude.
He encouraged people to support the SCLC and their work in whatever way they could.
“They will do great in the community,” he said.
Dexter Wimbish, general counsel for the SCLC, said Jefferson County’s chapter is the 63rd chapter of the SCLC and that the organization has chapters around the world.
“SCLC is a non-violent, direct action organization,” he said. “Understand that for black folks having nothing is nothing new.”
He talked about the recent crisis in the financial industry and asked how companies could post record profits a year ago and be filing bankruptcy this year.
“We might have no money but we can count,” he said. “Did anybody get a phone call in the middle of the night from Dick Cheney? Did Barack Obama call anybody?” he said of the recently considered $700 billion bail out for the industry.
He talked about companies that make shoes for $4 in another country and then sell those shoes for $150 in the United States.
“Mama and Daddy were making the shoes so they got a cut; they bought the shoes and part of the sales went into their paychecks,” he said. “Now we’ve been cut out.
“We can’t blame white people because we can’t raise our kids,” he said. “Everybody wants to blame everybody else. When you send your kids out there without the tools they need, don’t be surprised when they come (to trial). Economic unity is no longer an alternative, it’s a necessity.”
“We can only have unity if we tell the truth,” said Malcolm Cash, a college professor in Ohio.
“How can black colleges graduate thousands of black people every year and then Katrina happens and we start begging?” he asked.
“I’d rather have Hillary Clinton for president than Clarence Thomas,” he said.
He spoke about the importance of educating young people and asked them, “How many of you have read a book by Martin Luther King? We have the responsibility to educate our young people.
“I’ve never heard a DA like yours. I’ve never heard a judge like yours. If you don’t want them, send them to us. We need them,” he said.
Ricky Watson Jr., a 17-year-old, spoke to the group about breaking the system.
“You can’t let people tell you, ‘You can only be this because your mama was this. You can only be this because your father was this,’” he said. “It’s time to break the system. This is the life you’re living because you let someone else deal with it.”
Jefferson County Sheriff’s Maj. Charles Gibbons said unity is essential and important.
“We must have remorse and forgiveness,” he said, adding the Bible states how to treat people.
“I walk the streets and I ride the roads every day and people turn their heads,” he said.
Gibbons said he speaks to people in the grocery stores and they won’t talk to him.
“But they come to my office with an $800 ticket. They’ll talk to me then,” he said. “Unity. We must have it to survive.”
He said the Bible says for people to be kind to each other.
“I’m kind to people every day. To my left is a man who’s kind every day,” he said, indicating Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins.
Gibbons said people come to the JCSO when they’re in trouble and he tells them to talk with the sheriff.
“People don’t want to talk to him. Who are you going to talk to?”
Gibbons said he tells young people to come to him before they get in trouble and he’ll try to get them help.
“After you get in trouble, what can I do?” he asked.
“If something doesn’t change in Jefferson County, our worst day’s ahead of us,” Gibbons said.
“A good cop will never steer you wrong. We’re all in this together. You can overcome the system. We must help our youth. We must tighten up on them,” he said.
“Let this be the beginning,” Gibbons said. “Let’s make Jefferson County work for all of us. This is our community.”
Hospital offers full range of cancer care
By Leila Borders
Do you need a mammogram? What if you or a loved one are diagnosed with breast cancer and need an oncologist? What if surgery or chemotherapy is needed? Where can you find follow up care? Will you have to go to Augusta, Macon or even Atlanta? From first detection to follow-up visits, Jefferson Hospital offers a full array of breast cancer diagnosis and care—without the drive.
Breast cancer continues to be the most frequently diagnosed cancer in women and the second leading cause of cancer death, according to the American Cancer Society. In Jefferson County from 2000-2004, there were 45 cases of breast cancer diagnosed—16 of which were terminal. As there is no cure for breast cancer, the most important aspect of treatment remains early detection. This is accomplished through self and clinical breast exams and through mammography.
“A woman has to know her breasts to know if there are any changes,” said Jeri Gardner, R.T. (R) (M) at Jefferson Hospital. Gardner encourages women to do breast self-exams as often as possible. Guidelines on how to conduct a breast self-exam can be found on the ACS website, www.cancer.org. Women with breast implants and those who are pregnant or nursing can still do self exams. Clinical breast exams are recommended every three years for women in their 20s and 30s and every year for women 40 and older by the ACS.
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One of the most important tools for breast cancer detection is mammography. The ACS recommends women aged 40 and older have a mammogram done yearly. Jefferson Hospital offers mammograms without a doctor’s order for women aged 40 and older. As the hospital does not have a digital mammogram, it uses a Computer-Aided Detection system to assist the radiologist in viewing mammogram films. CAD aides radiologists by highlighting very small areas of concern on the films. Studies show it can help find breast cancer nine to 24 months earlier than a mammogram alone. During the month of October, Jefferson Hospital offers $50 mammograms for women aged 40 and over who do not have health insurance.
“It is really important that every woman go every year,” said Sue Stephens, R.T. (R) (M). She also said it is important for women to have all recommended follow up mammograms.
In addition to screening and diagnostic services, the hospital’s Multi-Specialty Clinic employs two oncologists who see patients every second and fourth Thursday. These oncologists can assist a patient throughout her breast cancer ordeal, from diagnosis to surgery or chemotherapy to follow up care.
Breast cancer surgery, including simple mastectomy, simple modified mastectomy and radical mastectomy, can be done at Jefferson Hospital. Reconstructive surgery must be referred to another hospital.
The hospital offers chemotherapy for patients as well. Lovingly nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels” by a patient, the staff of the hospital tries to make chemotherapy as painless as possible. Barbara Cofer, RN and operations room manager, said patients are encouraged to keep journals of their experiences and also are given handmade tote bags filled with books, samples of over-the-counter medications, pens, note pads and more from The Lydia Project, an organization in Augusta that provides the bags free of charge to breast cancer patients.
“Love and support. That’s what you get in a small hospital,” said Cofer. Wanda Darisaw, office manager of the Multi-Specialty and Pediatric Clinics, agreed.
“You get more of a personal touch,” she said. “It is a wonderful thing to have here in Jefferson County.”
For more information about the services offered or about breast cancer screening, contact Jefferson Hospital at 625-7000 or the Multi-Specialty Clinic at 625-7200.