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Valerie Nichols counts herself among the fortunate ones.
Though she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2012, it was caught while it was in its early stages. Nichols said she didn’t have the often debilitating rounds of chemotherapy and invasive surgeries some breast cancer patients have to endure, though Nichols did have a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation treatments.
“I had a friend that was diagnosed a month before I was,” said Nichols. “She had to go through chemo, she lost her hair and she became very ill. I missed two weeks and that’s it.”
Nichols said her diagnosis came as a surprise to her, not only because breast cancer doesn’t run in her family, but because she had a biopsy a year prior that found a similar tumor that was benign. The possibilities of what was to come for Nichols flooded her mind for the next two weeks.
“I thought ‘I’m going to have by breast cut off and that’s that,’” said Nichols. “I didn’t know what to do. To be 43 and be told you have breast cancer was difficult.”
The tumor was caught early, though, and the tumor was still less than two centimeters across. Later that March, Nichols had her lumpectomy and after her radiation therapy ended that summer, she was declared cancer free. Nichols says she credits her doctors and the mammograms they performed for saving her from a much more difficult road to recovery.
“They have them (mammograms) for a reason,” said Nichols. “They caught it pretty early and it didn’t look much different than the (benign tumor) I had the previous year. To someone who wasn’t really looking, I don’t know if they would have caught it.”
Though Nichols has been declared cancer free, she said her doctors told her that a new cancer could appear on her breasts at any time. The cancer she was diagnosed with last year was estrogen fed. To prevent that from happening, her doctors have prescribed Tamoxifen, a hormone blocker that has been known to cause symptoms of menopause. Nichols, who turned 45 this past June, says she’s experiencing those side effects.
“The hot flashes are the worst,” said Nichols. “You’re just sitting there and then all of a sudden, you feel like you’re on fire.”
Nichols she’s grateful for the way things turned out. She says she’s proceeding with her work as a scheduler for Brynn Marr Behavioral Health Hosptial, her favorite activities, which include shooting pool, her life with her husband and not taking anything for granted.