October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. I know that this post comes very late in the month, but I wanted to make some kind of personal observation. Breast Cancer is the most common cancer in women and the second leading cause of death in women. It touches everyone’s lives in one way or another and I wanted to share how it has touched our (my family) lives.
This is Eloise Amy Orr. She is 26 years old and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002. At that time, Eloise (Weeze) was a junior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since that time Weeze has undergone multiple surgeries and procedures to fight the cancer that invaded her body. Right now, she is cancer free and is planning to start graduate school at the Chicago satellite of Northern Illinois University.
Note: This post is not intended to offend or gross anyone out, but it is to celebrate Weeze’s strength, wisdom, and courage to fight against her breast cancer. She is truly a courageous young woman; my family applauses her positive outlook on life as we give thanks and praise to the almighty God for his blessings.
I interviewed Weeze Wednesday night. Over the telephone, she candidly talked about her life and struggle.
Updated October 22, 2007
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer? I was diagnosed in April, 2002 at age 20.
What prompted you to get an examination? I was in my apartment late one night, when I got an itch on my beast. I scratched, then I felt something wet on my hand. I went to the mirror to check. When I touched my breast, discharge sprayed on the mirror. The next morning, I went to student services, and they recommended I see a specialist in Urbana. My dad wanted me to come home to see a doctor in Chicago. In May 2002, I had both breasts removed. In the same surgery, the doctors performed breast reconstruction. Though the cancer was only found in the right breast, I decided to have both breasts removed because I did not want to risk the cancer recurring in the left breast. I was given the option of simple lumpectomy where I would have been able to keep both breasts, but that would have required radiation. Radiation is a process that takes place over several weeks, and time was of the essence. I I was planning to go to Spain in the fall. As a Spanish major, I really wanted to study abroad.
What stage was your cancer? Well, they never gave me any stage. But the type of cancer that I had is Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), which means the cancer is non-invasive, and confined to the ducts. That was not true for me. In 2003, the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in my right armpit.
I know that your mother died of complications related to breast cancer. How old were you when she passed? Five years old and she was thirty-five.
Do you remember how you felt at the time? I really did not know what was going on with her. I was sad when she was away. I did not understand cancer.
How did she approach her condition? She did as much as she could physically do. She went through chemo and radiation treatments. I remember she had open wounds. Her cancer was in the later stages when she was diagnosed.
Are there other women in your family who were diagnosed with the disease? No. Not that I know of. My mom's mom only had one nipple. People back then did not talk about illnesses or diseases.
After being diagnosed, when did you have surgery? End of May 2002. I had several surgeries and procedures.
1. Surgery April 2002 surgical biopsy
2. Surgery mastectomy breast removal May 2002 and reconstruction
3. Procedures to fill expanders with saline solution over the summer.
4. Surgery reconstruction - permanent implants.
5. Surgery April 2003, lymph nodes removal from right armpit. (2 days)
6. Graduated from UIUC in May 2003
7. Went to Puerto Rico after graduation
8. Chemotherapy starts June 2003 (one week after graduation)
9. Chemotherapy every two weeks from June to September 2003
10. Procedure - radiation from October to November 2003 (5 days a week - at the end of the treatment, the procedures became very painful and my skin turned black, fell off, and it took a long time for it to come back)
11. While living in Florida 2004 discovered tumor on the brain
12. Brain surgery December 2004
13. Procedure – radiation to the entire brain 5 days a week for three weeks (No cancer came back to my breast - it moved to my brain)
14. Radiation Surgery for another tumor on the brain – it was small January 2005
15. Started having seizers in October 2005
16. Surgery to remove the tumor that they thought the radiation surgery had dissolved October 2005
17. Surgery on the brain to remove another tumor July 2006
18. Surgery on the brain January 2007
What was the prognosis for survival? They never said any thing about survival or that the cancer could move to my brain. Breast cancer is commonly known to travel to other parts of the body: brain, ovaries, bones, lungs, and liver. How did you feel about the prognosis? I have every confidence in my team of doctors. They all go out of their way to make sure that I am well taken care of. I have to go to the doctor every three months for brain and chest scans. After the scans, I immediately discuss the results with my doctors. If there is a problem, my doctors take action immediately. There have been no tumors since January this year. My cancer feeds on estrogen, so I get injections every three months to temporarily shut down my ovaries. I Also take a drug called Arimidex once a day, to get rid of any extra estrogen that may remain in my body after the injection.
Did you join any support groups? I didn't; I regret it. One nurse reached out to me, but I was afraid to join her support group.
Are you a member of a cancer awareness organization? I have been a speaker and given my testimony to audiences. I have spoken to several women that are going through similar experiences, but I only know these women through mutual friends.I am not currently involved in any awareness organizations. I think about it all of the time. I do want to become more involved, but my thoughts of involvement have been clouded by focus on my future. I do believe that once I become more established and have made my dreams more of a reality, then I will become more involved. I am passionate about this, and until I can show it more, I am always willing to talk about it and answer questions for ANYONE who wants to know more.
How did your father respond to the turn of events? Other family members? Obviously having to watch someone you love (especially your child) go through surgeries and treatments is diffiicult for anyone. I may not have always been happy with the way my dad handled the situation, but I do believe he loves me and did the best that he knew how to do. All of my family was very supportive. They all pulled together, and were there for me. I didn't realize how immensely loved I was until this. That helped me a lot.
How did breast cancer affect your college career? I really tried not to focus on it; my life full was of other events. It helped me deal with the cancer.
After graduating, you taught in Spain for a few years, how did you decide that teaching in Spain would be a good move for you at that particular point in your life? I majored in Spanish in college. I wanted to be more fluent in Spanish, and after all of the surgeries, I just wanted to get away. I’d studied in Spain, and fell in love with it. So I decided to go to back there to bring happiness and piece of my mind to my life. It gave me the opportunity to focus on myself.
What made you come back to the US? That was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. My colleagues in Spain did ask me to return for another year. I was really happy there, and would have loved to do it again. However, between finances, the risk of getting sick again, and my need to move forward with my life here in the United States, I decided against it. Though I miss it every day, I know I made the right decision.
What would you tell a young person who is faced with a similar circumstance? The most important thing to do is be positive. Cancer is not a death sentence. If you believe in a higher power, pray. I talked to God and my mom a lot. I still have to deal with the physical appearance of my body as a result of all of my cancer treatments. I’m still nervous to show the scars to anyone, particularly a potential boyfriend. Having cancer will definitely change your life, but it’s not all for the worse. Being a survivor has made me aware of an inner strength I never knew I had. I don’t wish I never had breast cancer. The experiences helped to shape the person I am today.
The Future: My next task is graduate school. I hope to start working on my M.S. in Education this spring. My focus will be in bilingual education. I hope to work as a bilingual teacher. Hopefully I’ll get married and have a couple kids. No matter what the future brings, I will always be Eloise (Weeze), and I love who she is!