I first met Dolores Rogers on the racquetball courts at the downtown YMCA. She made the shots and I made the mistakes. Now she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is playing her same sharp game.
Here are excerpts from a letter sent to her professional colleagues in the corporate consultant field-many of them men-aner a lump and part of her breast were removed:
“You know by now that I have been diagnosed as having breast cancer… [I]n my usual straightforward manner I want to share with you the “good news1 within the ’bad news’ and tell you what to expect and what not to be surprised about.
“. . .On Thursday I will have day surgery at [Humana] Medical City to remove 26 out of 54 lymph nodes under my left arm, This ratio gives them a 99 percent probability of testing for spreading to the lymph system. Dr. [Janet] Hale said I might have to stay off work for two weeks, because the aftereffects are pain, the discomfort of having a drain in the area and difficulty in dressing. However, so I am hoping to beat the odds or at least be able to work from home.
” …if any of the tests come out not as hoped 1 will be given chemotherapy, followed by radiation. After all of the above, I will have a physical exam every three months for five years, and every six months for the rest of my life.
“…Why am I writing this?. . .[B]ecause I know that people who are interested are also hesitant to keep asking questions; I want those who are interested to know the implications of different treatments you hear of my having.”
Of course, not every woman in such a position wants to make a public statement. But Dolores, who is married and has grown children, has spent most of her career in corporate banking. She is analytical, aggressive and no-nonsense. Yes, she was scared and she cried. But she wasn’t going to relinquish control of her life.
First, there was the lump. Her gynecologist found it and sent her for a mammogram. The lump didn’t show up, but another “questionable area” did, so the radiologist recommended another mammogram in four months.
But Dolores decided that waiting four months “brought me nothing,” and that’s when she put together her “A Team’-looking for the right doctors in the same way we did in this month’s cover story. A family friend who is a radiologist gave her the names of two breast cancer specialists, and she chose Dr. Hale, who immediately suggested aggressive testing. Eight days after their first meeting, Dolores had her first surgery. Two days later she was back at work. The follow-up lymph node surgery brought good news. The cancer had not spread. But that didn’t mean she could skip the preventive radiation. Each morning for six weeks she was at Baylor for her 10-minute treatment.
During her recuperation Dolores read Nancy Brinker’s book. The Race is Run, and learned that her strategy of the past weeks is exactly what Brinker recommends. “Dealing with this disease requires a plan of action,” Brinker writes. “A good football team maps out its strategy. So should you.”
As I read and reread Dolores’ post-surgery letter, full of confidence and hope, I couldn’t help but think of other friends and family members who’ve come to terms with this cancer: Nora-a fellow journalist who underwent surgery at 30; Rat-my sister’s mother-in-law who has been cancer-free for eight years; Carolyn, a cohort from my Dallas Morning News days who lost her battle more than a year ago.
Their stories are all different, but they are all scary because the number of women diagnosed with breast cancer has risen to one in nine. If there is a positive side to any of this, I saw it last fall among the thousands of women in Dallas’ Race for the Cure.
It is the power of strong women united.