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