The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
Theresa Fox of rural Stronghurst, told her inspirational story as the Honorary Survivor, during the opening ceremony for Henderson County's Relay-For-Life Friday evening. She is happy to be among those who have been able to control this dreaded disease, and she continues in the fundraising efforts of the American Cancer Society hoping that someday, a cure will be found.
On this very sultry hot and still evening, she stood among her admirers and supporters and told her story.
"Well, for starters I am proud to be able to stand here today and tell you that I am in my 13th year of fighting this dreaded disease," she began.
"In October 1997 I had a mammogram that came back showing a small spot on my breast. I was referred to a surgeon who determined that I needed a biopsy. He was 98% sure that it was not cancer.
"The surgeon could not feel the spot. It was decided that with the location of the spot that I would go to the hospital for a biopsy. I would be going home that afternoon.
However, the surgeon wanted me to sign a paper to have the spot removed if it looked suspicious when he got the initial lab reports. Well, when I woke from the anesthetic I found out that I would be staying overnight, and it indeed was cancer. The surgeon had done a partial mastectomy.
"Needless to say I was upset, but my husband told me that I didn't have CANCER. The surgeon took it out! I was cancer free now. Gene was so very supportive. This first surgery was November 19, 1997.
"After healing I took 37 radiation treatments. That meant a trip to the hospital every day except Sundays and Christmas day. I continued to work every day then go for my radiation.
"It made me very tired, but I got along very well. I was not burned, just had a very deep tan. After some time I developed pneumonia. I had lots of tests to see what the spot was. I had a lung biopsy. They could never seem to come up with what I had. I feel that it was damage from the radiation.
"You are considered in remission if you stay cancer free for 5 years. Well, I made it 4 years and 8 months. During this time I took Tamoxifin twice a day. It is a cancer blocker. My cancer was fed by hormones, and this drug was to block the hormones.
"In July 2002 I found that I had another cancer. The first one had not metastasized, this was a new cancer on the other breast. After a mammogram, needle aspiration and steriotactic biopsy I had another partial mastectomy.
"Once again I found myself going for 37 radiation treatments. This time I also continued to work at my job and take the treatments. My employers were very good to me, to let me get the necessary treatments and continue with my job.
"All during this time there were follow-up check-ups and the usual blood tests, CAT scans, chest x-rays and bone density tests. It seems as though you are constantly going to the doctor.
"In September of 2004 I discovered a reddish blotchy spot on my breast. It sort of looked like a bruise. It didn't go away.
"I saw my surgeon and gynecologist and neither one knew what the spot was. The surgeon talked of doing a biopsy, but was reluctant as radiated skin does not heal well.
"So he decided we should watch it. In January 2005 I had a check up with the oncologist. By this time I had lots of spots. The one had turned into many spots. He didn't know what it was, but knew I needed lots of tests to see what was going on.
"So I went back to the surgeon and he did a marginal biopsy. It came back negative. No cancer. But thankfully he decided to send me back to the radiologist.
"The radiologist had never seen such a thing and had no idea what it was, and of course didn't think it was cancer or anything to do with the radiation.
"Since it was on the skin, he sent me to Dr. Cleveland, a dermatologist. Dr. Cleveland did a punch biopsy from the center of the spots and sent it to Iowa City. This biopsy came back positive for cancer. It was called angio-sarcoma caused by radiation.
"Then there was a battery of tests: chest x-ray, sonogram, mammogram, CT, and a PET scan.
"In March of 2005 I had a complete mastectomy of the left breast. My surgeon was a breast cancer specialist, and I also had a plastic surgeon. He did what is called a latisimus flap. He took skin from my back to cover the area that the surgeon removed. So basically I had an incision from my spine to my breast bone.
"Angio-sarcoma is very rare, and the medical field does not have a lot of studies to go by for treatment. It usually happens I was told in older women and twenty years or more after breast cancer. My circumstances didn't fit either of these qualifications.
"By September of 2006 the angio-sarcoma had reared its ugly head again. This time just below the last incision. So once again I found myself having surgery. This time it was called a wide incision to remove the new spot.
"During all this time I continue to have regular check-ups, PET Scans, chest x-rays, bone density tests, etc.
"Once again the angio-sarcoma is back. My surgeon decided the best thing to do would be to remove all the radiated skin from my left chest wall. When she did the mastectomy, she didn't take all the radiated skin.
"So in February 2007 I had all the radiated skin removed clear to the rib cage. Once again I had the plastic surgeon as well. He did a huge skin graft from my left leg to close this new wound.
"Let me tell you, skin grafts are NO FUN. I was in the hospital for a week. The dressings were changed several times a day. It was so painful.
"In October 2007 my surgeon found yet another spot. It had jumped across the incision line and gone to the other side. The biopsy did not show cancer, but the surgeon was not happy with that report.
"She said it looked just like the others. It was very small, and she was able to do a small incision in the procedure room in her office. The pathology report came back positive. So we were glad she had removed it.
"Through all this my oncologist never had a chance to try chemo on the angio-sarcoma's. So we didn't know if chemo would treat them or not.
As luck would have it the oncologist got his chance to try chemo on me. In November 2008 just after I retired from my job, I had more spots show up on the right breast. So the oncologist wanted to start me on chemo before I had any surgery.
So once again after several tests, etc. I started chemo on November 20, 2008. I would be given Taxel intravenously every week and Avastin every three weeks for 3 months. Avastin is very expensive and the doctor had to get permission to use it on me.
"Then I would undergo another surgery. The surgeon removed all the radiated skin clear to the chest wall on the right side. Also, I would again have a huge skin graft from my right leg to close this new wound.
"This time I was hospitalized for a week, and the plastic surgeon used a wound vac on my leg. Using this I didn't have to have the wound changed every day until I went home.
"My wonderful husband had to learn how to change these bandages every day for both of those skin grafts. He is a wonderful nurse.
"This surgery was in February 2009. After two months of recovery I had to go back to 3 months of chemo every week.
"Hopefully, this is the end of the angio-sarcoma and the end of surgeries. My oncologist was very pleased with the reaction to the chemo. I can stand here today and tell you that through all this I have never been sick. I have been very fortunate in that regard. I was very tired through radiation and very weak through the chemo, but never sick.
"This past March at my check-up the cancer markers (a blood test) had gone up. So my oncologist called for another blood test. It went up over 2 points more. I thought, Oh no, here we go again!
"Dr. Veeder decided that I should have a PET scan because of my history just to be sure. He assured me that these numbers fluctuate. The PET scan did not show any cancer, so he wanted to check it again in three months. Well, I am here to tell you that on June 29th Dr. Veeder told me that the numbers are down!! What great news.
"Now I can go on and enjoy my son's wedding without worrying about cancer.
"I thank God every day for being cancer free. I had a wonderful support team. Family and friends who came to visit at the hospital, a ton of get well cards, phone calls, friends who took me to treatments, friends who brought food, and lots and lots of people praying for me."
Theresa ended her emotional speech with a huge THANK YOU saying, "I truly believe God listens to our prayers, and gets us through."
Theresa Fox, far right, Stronghurst and many of her family members lead the Survivors Lap during Opening Ceremonies Friday evening. Theresa's sisters and family attending were Kathy Shreeves, Knoxville, Cecilia and Ben Lutz, Good Hope, Melissa Graham and Madison of Palmyra, IL, Marc and Kalisha Lutz and Brooklyn and Gene of West Burlington, IA. Her sons were unable to come but were there in spirit, Michael and Wendy and children Morgan and Halle of Morton who were in a championship game that evening and son Brad and his fiance Melissa Johnson who were getting ready for a bridal shower the next morning.