with time to spare. Here is Leanna Reed Clemmons’ story on her breast cancer survival and her courageous fight every step of the way:
Waiting for the results of my biopsy seemed to take forever even though it was just one day. I knew by the way the technician looked at my breast as she was doing the mammogram the week before, there was a reason to be concerned.
The phone rang and Dr. Deselle confirmed it. Cancer. He immediately wanted to schedule me for a lumpectomy within a matter of days however I wanted to get a 2nd opinion. I met with the same doctor that treated me for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I was 19 years old, and she referred me to Birmingham. I know a lot of people think very highly of Kirklin Clinic, however I am not one of those people. I feel like they dropped the ball with me. I spent a total of 5 weeks having tests done, biopsies, meetings with doctors, scans, etc.. and never got a treatment plan in place. Finally, I met with a team of doctors and got news that was worse than finding out I have cancer. I don’t think anyone is prepared to hear the words, “You have about 3 years left.” This news was given to me with my then 15 year old son sitting within feet away from me. The doctor stood at the door, hand on the doorknob, and hardly looked at me. No surgery. No treatment. Just wanted to send me home and (in their words) “keep me comfortable”.
The ride home, my mind was spinning. How could this be? I feel fine. I look fine. (other than the lump in my breast) I made a phone call to my lifelong best friend, Deana Wilcox, and she let me do nothing but cry uncontrollably in the phone to her. Still to this day, when I think about that phone call, my eyes fill with tears.
So, five weeks have passed at this point and this cancer is still inside me. Growing. My dad makes me an appointment in Nashville at Vanderbilt. They do their own series of tests (oh, and might I add that when I called Kirklin to have my records faxed to Vanderbilt, they said they had no record of me even being a patient of theirs. HUH? WHAT?). I met with Dr. Ingrid Mayer and she sat across from me and looked me dead in the eyes and said:
“Yes, you have an aggressive form of breast cancer. You are Stage IV Triple Negative. Its hard to treat this form since the cancer doesn’t feed off estrogen. Its not going to play nice. We’re not going to play nice either. We are going to fight this aggressively and you might only HAVE three years to live, but… my job is to keep you here long enough to spoil some grand-babies. I don’t believe in putting a time limit on patients. I could walk out of here today and get hit by a car. We just don’t know. What I want to do with you is treatment, surgery, reevaluate and if needed, there are clinical trials we can put you in. We will do everything medically possible to prolong your life, as long as your quality is good.”
That is all I wanted. Someone who was willing to try to save my life. I had only been married to my husband a few years. My son was only 15. I want to watch him graduate, settle into a career, get married, have children…. all the things parents expect to be a part of. So.. now at least there is a plan.
I had surgery to have a port inserted since chemo was a for sure thing. I had 6 months of chemotherapy. Taxol and Cisplatin. We traveled to Nashville once a week for my treatment. I handled it fairly well. It took more of an emotional toll than anything.. losing my hair was extremely difficult and something I struggle with even still. I still have neuropathy in my feet & toes and recently started having trouble with lymphedema, from having lymphnodes removed during my bilateral mastectomy.
Since I am Stage IV, I have to repeat PET scans every 6 weeks to make sure the spot on my spine and kidney are “behaving”. If anything changes with them, then its back on chemo I go. I am scheduled for reconstruction in January. It will be a big surgery. 10 hours. They are taking the tissue from my stomach area and moving it up to make boobs. Hello tummy tuck! (lol)
I have learned a lot over the past year. Most of all, that God has a plan for each of us and I have decided to make each day count.
I created a video of the past year, and also included some other things I have learned. I am always open to helping those that are faced with this horrible news, whether it is guiding them in the steps they need to take medically, or just an ear to listen. Cancer not only takes its toll on us physically, but emotionally as well.
*Those you think will be there for you, won’t.
*Those you didn’t think would be there for you, will.
*Chemo is no joke, and as well as I did with it, I still had some pretty rough days.
*I never knew how much my hair meant to me until I lost it.
*I never knew how important my breast were until they were gone.
*My husband is the most amazing person I know.. he has dealt with my ups and downs and I can’t imagine how hard this has all been on him.
*I’ve lost friends, but I’ve gained friends. Thankfully I have gained more than I lost.
*I’ve laughed as much as I’ve cried.
*It’s hard to watch everybody carry on “business as usual” when you’re struggling to make it through the day.
*No matter how many times you go, you never get used to the smell & taste of Heparin.
*I never know when I’ll wake up with numb toes, but I am thankful that at least I’m waking up.
*Very few things made me forget why I had to make a trip to Vanderbilt Breast Center.. but a “girls trip” was one of those things.
*Snuggles from a pit bull ( or TWO ) always make me feel better.
*Visits from my best friend, Deana, always make me feel better.
*No matter what kind of “friend drama” may be going on, at the end of the day, as long as I have my son and my husband- I’m good.
*Cancer can destroy so much of a person, but it can also show you what you’re made of. I found out I am a lot stronger than I thought I was.
*I haven’t given enough credit to my husband, who has taken over household responsibilities, made sure I stayed on schedule with my medications, pampered me when I probably needed a good smack in the mouth (lol), got in the shower with me while fully clothed to help move stupid drains out of the way after my surgery, held on during all my emotional roller-coaster days, and never had a negative word to say. In the midst of me falling apart, he was there to hold me together and never complained, but constantly told me how beautiful and strong I was when I felt just the opposite.
*While its rare for a teenager to think about someone other than themselves, Jordan tweaked his social life quite a bit so he could stay home with me when I didn’t feel good. I have done something right in raising that boy.. he has one of the most caring hearts I’ve ever seen.
*Its no fun to sleep in a recliner for a month.
*When your hair starts to grow, the wig has to go. (it starts to slip and slide… lol)
*Ports are a god-send.
*If I help one person, then getting on 10 people’s nerves is worth it.
*I’m thankful for the many texts, chats, phone calls, etc.. to and from people I’ve never met in person, but have an unbreakable bond with. Funny how you can be comfortable talking to someone you don’t know, only because they have experienced the same things you have.
*Its ok to cry, its ok to be scared.. but its not ok to give up.
Leanna Reed Clemmons, a Shoals Survivor
You know that sinking feeling you get in your gut while standing on the edge of a cliff? Yeah, that one. Hold that thought.
Now, imagine that you have just been told to step off…………..
There is nothing but air. You will surely fall and die.
I am the oldest of five children. Born and raised in a time when you never worried about your children playing outside, as a matter of fact, none of us ever considered staying inside on a beautiful day.
A bicycle was the accepted mode of transportation. Designer jeans were not an issue. No cell phones for distraction.
You had everything you needed…your best friend and a dollar for a drink and a honey bun at the store.
You went to Church on Sunday, and Mom never had to make us go. Our attendance was expected.
Life never got much more complicated than that.
Our family has been abundantly blessed with good health. Grandparents lived to ripe old ages, after living a full and happy life.
The closest I had ever come to cancer was a paternal aunt with Breast Cancer. It was so long ago, that I barely remembered it.
Then it happened. The diagnosis. The surgery. The recovery. The acceptance. The establishment of “new normal.”
To rebuild your life after the beast enters is not the easiest thing to do. I did what I had to do. It never occurred to me to give up, to not do what I had determined I would do and be in my life.
But.. my precious family still had to deal.
Looking back, I can see that each of them dealt with the beast in their own way.
My brothers and sisters have always known and still do, that I am here for them. They can talk to me about anything. Sometimes I give good advice, and sometimes I just listen.
But I’ve always been here.
Now they had to face the possibility that I may not “be here”
I know they love me. I never doubt that, just as they know I love them. We have and will always love each other.
If you know my family, you know these truths..
1. We are affectionate.
We love one another and are not afraid to show it. Hugging is acceptable. Kissing is optional.
2. We are loyal.
All for one and one for all.
3. We are always and I mean always here for each other.
No one has to go through troubles alone, not with the Peebles Clan.
4. We are LOUD!
I know, but the truth is what it is. I have watched many videos of us at family gatherings and the volume has to be turned down.
Like my daughter Shelley says, “It’s the only way to be heard in this family, to get louder than others.”
My family is very important to me. I was taught that you “took care” of the little ones. And I did that.
I have been told, I did it so well, that I would take their punishment for them.
Now before you get all “well she is just bragging” on me, wait a second…
I was only a little girl, and I certainly don’t remember doing it…….so it’s not as noble as it sounds. But… I would do it today in a heartbeat.
Just as they would for me.
But the beast was one enemy that they couldn’t fight for me. That one had to be dealt with one on one
.Man to man.
Beast to SURVIVOR
Every brother, every sister that I have would have fought the beast for me. I know that, if they could they would have gladly done what ever it took to get me through the battle with the beast.
But in life, there are some battles that are meant to be fought alone. The only help you have or will ever have is HIM.
And that is all a warrior needs in a battle of any kind is HIM.
Please never think that I am better than any other survivor out there. I never felt special or singled out for any special or divine purpose.
I was just a working mother, with a life that I loved and a family that I loved.
Battling a beast as strong as cancer was not on my life’s agenda. Or so I thought. Now, looking back, I realize that it is exactly what I was supposed to do and be.
It is a time of my life of wonderful lessons.
Lessons learned and hopefully taught to others through my struggles of how life can be lived. And that the beast doesn’t always win.
Most of the time it wins, but there are those times that we can look at with new hope, new faith, new strength. Those are the times that we should strive for whether dealing with cancer or with the jerk who cut you off on Woodward Avenue.
Those times when you know you are loved, you know you are strong, you know you are the “best you can be”
You just know !
And if the battle with the beast is lost………………………..
Well, to be absent here is to be present……………where???
That is the question.
I love my family, they love me.
There are just no givens in life. No certain outcomes. No promise of another day. No guarantee that what you want is what you’ll get. Not one of us is guaranteed our next breathe.
But you are promised an eternity. Time without end.
A wonderful alternative to the beast
Eternity, what a lovely word
The next lesson I learned from cancer, and every day life is this.
Family is the heart of the matter
We don’t get to choose them. They are GIVEN to us. I love that idea!! This group of people were chosen just for me. This Mother, this Father and these brothers and sisters are mine.
There is no one in the world who has a family like mine. The unique personalities and bond that we share is not so common these days.
You are truly my foundation.
Family…. The Heart of the Matter.
- Dear Cancer, (rockstarronan.com)
- Sporadic Thoughts on Cancer (and more than you ever wanted to know about a certain procedure) (mikedellosso.wordpress.com)
- Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (1) (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (2) (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (3) (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (4) (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (5) (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (6) (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (7) (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)
- Things I Learned from Cancer 101 (8) (rememberingtheshoals.wordpress.com)