'It's a bonus day':Breast cancer survivors find plenty to be positive about

Posted: Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lori Vedders has a good story about her breast cancer.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Lori Vedders and her husband Bill are celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary today. Lori recently finished radiation treatments for a form of breast cancer. "I'm ready to move on with the next chapter of my life," she said.

And so does Elaine Anderson and Judy Keck-Walsh.

With early detection and doctor care, these three Central Kenai Peninsula women have survived or are surviving breast cancer and talking about it.

"It's something you never think is going to happen to you," said 49-year-old Vedders of Kenai.

She recently finished her radiation treatments this summer after having a lumpectomy and undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Vedders is now cancer-free and all set for more adventures.

"I'm ready to move on with the next chapter of my life," said the former Heritage Place employee. "It's a new and just a different outlook and an appreciation for everything. I'm very excited."

Anderson, on the other hand, has been cancer free for years now.

"I kind of celebrate every day when I wake up and everything works. It's a bonus day," she said.

Anderson, 62, had a double mastectomy after she discovered a pucker in her breast while on vacation with her husband in Hawaii in 2001.

"I had found a puckering and my mammogram hadn't shown anything," she said. "It was cancer in the very early stages but very quickly advancing."

While the cancer may have been quickly advancing, her doctor in Anchorage was quicker. She flew home almost immediately and was in surgery a few days later.

"I opted to have both breasts taken out," she said. "I said, 'You know, I don't need 'em so take them both.'"

Keck-Walsh, a 58-year-old sales consultant with Arctic Beauty Supply who lives in Soldotna, is currently undergoing radiation treatments in Mesa, Ariz. where her parents live.

"I'm just about to finish up radiation next week," she said. "It's almost to the end I just can't wait."

She said she couldn't stress enough the importance of self-exams and mammograms.

"My case is, I found it early," she said. "I just have a very good story."

Keck-Walsh has been actively involved with the Pink Ribbon Rally golf tournament at Birch Ridge Golf Course for years before she was diagnosed. She has worked on the event with Anderson and other women on the Peninsula to raise money for the breast cancer fund at the Central Peninsula Health Foundation.

"I never thought I would get breast cancer, that it would always happen to someone else but you can never, ever say that," Keck-Walsh said. "I wasn't even at risk. There's no breast cancer in my family at all and very little cancer. That's why it's so important."

Early detection

According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women are at risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.

"Nobody is immune from getting breast cancer," said Amber Every, a registered mammographer at Central Peninsula Hospital.

Every is one of the organizers of the hospital's "Pamper Me Pink" mammography party, in its second year, which will be held Friday evening at the Woman's Imaging Center. Friday is National Mammography Day and the party aims to make getting mammograms more fun and relaxing with music, massages, manicures and refreshments.

Last year, two women who attended the event for screenings were diagnosed with breast cancer as a result of their mammograms, Every said.

And one local man was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, she said.

"Only 1 percent of breast cancer is in men," she said.

Katherine Leslie, imaging services director at Central Peninsula Hospital, said the "Pamper Me Pink" event is to call attention to breast cancer and early detection.

"We've seen a drop in women having mammograms and it's a concern to us," she said.

Leslie said the American Cancer Society recommends women age 40 and older have a mammogram every year.

"The incidence of breast cancer starts rising after 40 and you want it detected early before you feel it," she said. "Our goal is to catch it early before it advances to a stage that is not as easily treated."

But that doesn't mean women younger than 40 cannot get breast cancer. Every said the hospital has seen cases of breast cancer in women of all ages.

A positive diagnosis

It started with a lump under her armpit.

"Of course I never really got that concerned about it," Vedders said. But then it started to hurt.

So last September she went and saw her doctor who said it could be cancer.

"Before I left that day she had already called and had an appointment for me to visit a surgeon in Anchorage as well as an oncologist who was also up in Anchorage," she said.

When she first found out she said she froze up a little bit and was in shock.

"But it was time to move on," she said. "I never got really emotionally caught up in the situation except moving forward and keeping positive."

Vedders had a lumpectomy and then went through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, some in Anchorage and in some in Soldotna.

"My experience was very good. It wasn't a bad experience," she said. "I actually really wasn't scared. I just went about it like well, I'm sick and we're fixing it. The chemo and stuff, the side effects of that were kind of harsh. There were days I didn't feel good and days I felt good."

But for Vedders, the hard part was losing her hair.

"I thought being bald would be sort of neat, a sort of liberating feeling, because you didn't have to deal with your hair," Vedders said. But she didn't like it.

"I did wear a wig for awhile but it wasn't very comfortable," she said. She tried different hats and scarves as well.

Her hair is back now. When it grew in it was grey, a little curly and soft like baby hair, she said. She has a hair appointment next week for a cut and a dye

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