For Starkville resident Barbara Norman, a “family history” of breast cancer developed suddenly and with devastating consequences.
In 1996, her sister Elizabeth Rhodes was the first in her family diagnosed. She went into remission in December 1997. However, after only three months of being cancer free, Norman said her sister found another lump.
“She was admitted back into the hospital on Feb. 18, and she died on Feb. 23,” Norman said. “The cancer had spread all over her body.”
Only two years after her sister’s passing, Norman’s mother, Elsie Rhodes, also was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Immediately after her diagnosis, Elsie, who was 68 at the time, said she decided to undergo surgery. But in 2006, after being in remission for three years, she, too, was diagnosed a second time. She had beaten it again a year later.
“When I found out I was diagnosed again, I just couldn’t believe it,” Elsie said. “I said I was OK, but I was really angry. Cancer had already taken my daughter, and I wasn’t going to let it take me.”
Taking it one day at a time, Elsie said she did everything that was recommended a cancer patient do to stay healthy during treatment. She walked each day, changed her diet, and most importantly, maintained a positive attitude.
“My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. I am not yours. You can’t stay here,” Elsie said she repeated each day. “I had to stay positive about such a devastating disease, and it wasn’t easy. But everyone can do it if they just try.”
After watching both her sister and mother fight the disease, Norman said she knew she needed to be proactive with exams. Her doctor kept a close eye on the situation, but in 2009, Norman received her own diagnosis.
“It was a shock,” she said. “You know, my daughter and I just kind of joked about it. But when you’re told you have breast cancer, it’s just like a big slap in the face.”
However, she did what she said she had to do — she fought just liker her sister and mother did.
Norman underwent a lumpectomy, and went through two types of chemotherapy, as well as radiation.
The chemo, Norman noted, was especially brutal.
“Everyone reacts to treatment differently, but by my fifth chemo treatment, I started having a reaction to it,” she said. “My fifth treatment was the start of the second kind of chemotherapy I got. The shortened name for it is the ‘red devil,’ and let me tell you, that’s exactly what it was.”
After completing treatment, Norman went into remission and still is cancer-free to this day. However, with her now well-established family history, she struggles with worry her cancer might return.
“It was such a relief to find out I was in remission,” Norman said. “But at the same time, still fearful. Every time I go to the doctor now, I just pray and pray that nothing came up again.”
After losing Elizabeth, and enduring a fight of their own, Elsie and Norman agreed being proactive and taking the proper steps for early detection saves lives.
According to the American Cancer Society, Norman said, women do not need to get a mammogram until age 40. However, she said women diagnosed at younger ages is becoming more common, and it is simply not enough to wait until the age of 40, especially if there is a family history. If women are unable to get a mammogram, Norman said she recommends a gene test.
“I’ve heard of young ladies, as young as 21 and 22, being diagnosed with breast cancer,” Norman said. “My sister died at only 39, which is before they recommend even getting mammograms, which shows that no one is exempt from cancer. Age is only a number.”
Although early detection is crucial, Elsie said the best medicine — especially for those living with the disease right now — is living fearlessly.
“Start getting mammograms, enjoy life, take the most out of each day, and most importantly, don’t live in fear,” she said.
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.