When traveling on her cancer journey, faith and attitude made the difference for a Westport area woman.
As Sandra Taylor rolled over in bed one day in 2009, she said it felt like she’d laid on something. But there was nothing there.
Taylor said she hadn’t been doing self breast exams. Each month she was used to her breasts getting “lumpy and bumpy,” so she didn’t think much of it. She’d just had a mammogram five months earlier and it was clean. It never crossed her mind she could have cancer.
“I called the doctor within a day or two and scheduled an appointment. I was at the doctor within a week,” Taylor said.
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Doctors performed several imaging tests and another mammogram. Due to the density of the mass in her breast, the previous mammogram had not detected it. An ultrasound showed three tumors in her right breast and additional cysts in her left breast.
“The worst thing was they actually called me to tell me the results,” said Taylor, 54, who lives in eastern Bartholomew County.
She was en route to the Indiana State Fair that August day with family and a close friend when the phone rang as they stopped at a gas station.
Taylor said all she recalled hearing was “Blah, blah, blah.”
“It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are, when someone takes that word (cancer) and says, ‘This is yours,’ no one is prepared for that,” she said. “We ended up not going to the fair and went to the doctor’s office instead so they could actually tell me what they were going to do next.”
That September, Taylor was given a chemotherapy port and started therapy the next week. The doctors later told Taylor she hadn’t responded to the four rounds of chemotherapy as they’d anticipated and recommended another round.
Taylor, then 47, flew to the Mayo Clinic’s campus in Phoenix in December to get a second opinion. Taylor underwent a double mastectomy and returned to Columbus.
She underwent three additional rounds of chemotherapy followed by 38 rounds of radiation over the course of seven weeks. Taylor finished therapy in April 2010.
“I should have had four rounds that time, but the drugs they gave me had such a bad effect,” the mother of six children said. “All my joints hurt really bad and I had severe ‘chemo brain.’”
Taylor, who then worked at Faurecia as a quality engineer, had always prided herself on her ability to recall names, numbers and being quick to mentally process things. And although she worked all through her treatment, she was unable to remember the names of her co-workers and was forced to carry a notebook with her to write everything down.
In August 2011, the cancer returned on the right side as bumps appeared and popped her scar line directly above her right breast. The tumors were aggressive and growing rapidly. The biopsy showed the tumors were malignant and this time they tested as triple negative.
“Knowing, at that point, it was triple negative was concerning,” Taylor said. “Because that is the most aggressive form of breast cancer. But I had confidence in my surgeon.”
She underwent another mastectomy surgery on the right side in December to have the tumors removed. This time, the reconstruction was performed with tissue taken from her abdomen.
After finishing a round of oral chemotherapy that lasted six months, Taylor was given the all-clear in the spring of 2012. Just a few months later, however, more tumors formed and, again, tested as triple negative. The cancer had returned, but in the transplanted tissue which meant it had metastasized.
“That was particularly scary for me,” Taylor said. “But I’ve always had the attitude that I’m stronger than cancer and I wasn’t going to let it stop me.”
For the third time, Taylor had a mastectomy on her right side — this time utilizing tissue from her shoulder and hip.
Out of options with radiation, Taylor had another round of chemotherapy, but this time it destroyed her immune system, affected her heart and landed her at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for a week.
Taylor’s 20-year-old daughter, Shelby Sparkman, said her mother’s journey has forced her to be more mature than others her age. The daughter said she was in shock when she first learned of her mom’s illness because she always thought her mother would be fine.
“There were a few times when she got really sick where I got concerned,” Sparkman said.
But it was the changes she saw in her mother that really made her stop and think.
“I’ve matured and my perspective is different,” Sparkman said. “I saw her change mentally and physically because there would be some days she couldn’t get up. It was trumping her spirit because mom likes to overachieve, so it was hard to see that. But each time she’s been re-diagnosed, she’s been better and better and more brave about it.”
In 2014, the cancer returned on Taylor’s left side. Since she hadn’t undergone radiation on that side, it was a viable treatment option. She underwent another 38 rounds of radiation over the course of seven weeks. In January 2016, the cancer returned yet again. She completed therapy in March 2016. In April, doctors declared Taylor to have no evidence of the disease.
Taylor said at no point during her journey did she lose her faith.
“I never believed I was going to die, never once,” she said. “I just thought it was something I had to go through, so the last couple of recurrences were another bump in the road. It wasn’t going to be fun, but I’d done it before and I could do it again.”
RESIDES: Rural Bartholomew County near Westport
TYPE OF CANCER: Breast
DIAGNOSED: August 2009
IN REMISSION: Since April 2016
OCCUPATION: Product development quality engineer with Valeo in Greensburg
FAMILY: Sons Scott, Curtis, Kyle, Ryan; daughters Morgan and Shelby
The Republic’s annual special section on cancer awareness, Colors for a Cure, will publish as part of Friday’s edition.
It is called Colors for a Cure because certain colors are used symbolically to highlight specific types of cancer: pink for breast, orange for leukemia and light blue for prostate, for example.
The section will include stories of people who are battling cancer or have survived it — informing Republic readers about different types of cancer, and providing them with valuable information in addition to hope and inspiration.
October has been designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Different months of each year are selected to raise events for different types of cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society:
- About one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
- About 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women this year.
- About 40,450 women were expected to died this year from breast cancer.