When Sue Wallace discovered she had breast cancer, she went from denial to disbelief.
“I hadn’t felt bad, and I guess I’m one of those people who thinks it happens to everyone else, not me,” the 64-year-old Taylorsville resident said.
During the Labor Day weekend of 2010, Wallace was helping her husband move wood when her right arm began to ache. The Julia Drive resident also had been feeling hip pain but dismissed both symptoms as signs of aging.
A short time later, she discovered a hardness on the left side of one of her breasts. While she began to worry, Wallace didn’t want anything to spoil an upcoming trip to Mackinac Island.
“I didn’t say anything until we got there,” Wallace said. “But when we arrived, I told Roger about it.”
Even after a biopsy was performed, Wallace refused to consider she might have breast cancer. But reality began to sink in after a nurse told her the growth was malignant.
Occupation: Former telephone operator; currently works in residential sanitation services
Diagnosed: Oct. 20, 2010
Treatment: Lumpectomy; medications include regular doses of aralia and Faslodex; takes Herceptin every other week.
What cancer taught me: You have to accept that whatever will be, will be. You just can’t give up. You have to think positive. You have to act as normal as possible.
How cancer changed me: I am so grateful. I am so thankful. I just can’t say enough thankfulness to the Lord.
What I would tell someone just diagnosed with cancer: Do not claim the cancer. Do not say it’s ‘my’ cancer. It is ‘the’ cancer, because it is not welcome.
In October 2010, Wallace was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, which means that while the malignant cells were spreading, the cancer was confined to the surrounding breast tissue.
“I first thought I was going to lose all my hair,” Wallace said. “But when they called back after doing more testing and said, ‘Can you come back in and bring your husband,’ I thought ‘Oh, this doesn’t sound good.’”
The couple learned the disease had progressed to Stage 4 because the cancerous cells had spread to other parts of her body. The doctor also said that since Wallace exercised, watched her diet and neither drank nor smoked, she had positive attributes on her side.
“But they were still talking about a mastectomy,” Wallace said.
She next went to Dr. Thomas Jackson, who explained the breast removal procedure. Then, she talked with surgeon Frederick Shedd, who said that, while a mastectomy eventually might be necessary, he felt she might be able to get by with a much simpler lumpectomy.
The breast-conserving surgery was performed in June of last year.
“That went very well,” Wallace said. “It didn’t hurt as much as the biopsy.”
It turned out her chemotherapy wasn’t as terrible as she had feared. The surgeons installed a port-a-cath below her collarbone, which is a small medical appliance placed under the skin. It allows for less painful drug injections without the danger of a vein collapsing.
And much to Wallace’s relief, she was given medications that allowed her to keep her hair.
“I take aralia, a bone enhancer, and Faslodex, a drug for postmenopausal women who have stopped responding to other hormonal therapy medicines,” Wallace said. “And every other week, I’m given Herceptin. It kills the cancer cells. And to me, it’s the miracle drug.”
Oncologist Michael Mak warned Wallace not to get her hopes up about remission. But he also provided comfort by explaining that as long as her body responded well to the treatment, he’d keep her on the same regimen. And if one drug stops working, there are others she could take.
Like other breast cancer survivors, Wallace soon learned how widespread the disease is.
“When we told our minister, he jokingly said: ‘Sue, you are going to be fine. But I’m worried about Roger,’” Wallace said.
In reality, it was no joke.
Cancer already had taken quite an emotional toll on Roger Wallace. Both of his parents, as well as a brother, had died from different forms of cancer. When his wife’s disease was diagnosed, his mother had died just a year earlier.
While Roger Wallace, now 77, also has a niece and nephew who suffered from cancer, his wife tried to comfort him by pointing out both are responding well to treatment. She also noted that her brother-in-law, who was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus six years ago, was doing well.
If every cloud has its silver lining, Sue Wallace found hers in Wilma Perry.
“One of the ladies at New Hope Christian Church went through this 17 years ago,” Wallace said. “Wilma had cancer in the lungs, in the brain, and a heart attack from the chemo. She had two siblings that suffered from cancer. But she was just so upbeat and amazing.”
Sadly, Wallace lost her friend last month. Perry, a retired librarian, passed away in early September at age 65.
“If I had to name one person who has helped me more than anyone else, I would have to say it’s Wilma,” Wallace said.
While Wallace doesn’t consider herself “super-religious,” she feels her ordeal has brought her closer to God and given her a better understanding of the power of prayer.
There also is a much greater appreciation of family. After the diagnosis was made, she got together with her three out-of-town sisters in Terre Haute and had a slumber party.
“We stayed up all night and talked and drank tea. It was just wonderful,” Wallace said.
But she said the three greatest joys in her life are her grandchildren: 14-year-old Claire, 11-year-old Grady and 3-year-old Gus.
Sue Wallace was 7 years old when Doris Day released her signature song “Que Sera, Sera” But the English translation of that phrase holds new meaning for her today.
“If they say you only have so long or that there’s no cure, you have to accept that whatever will be will be,” Wallace said.
While she accepts her situation, she’s not ready to accept defeat.
“You just can’t give up. You have to think positive and stay active. You have to act as normal as possible, think as positive as possible and share your story with others.”
Wallace also said the best advice she’s received from a fellow survivor is: “Do not claim the cancer. Do not say it’s ‘my’ cancer. It is ‘the’ cancer, because it is not welcome.”