SYRACUSE — While it has been 25 years, Nancy Nelson still worries cancer will return.
Nelson is one of many cancer survivors in the community. She was diagnosed 25 years ago with stage two breast cancer. Back then the procedure was “cut, burn and get poisoned,” Nelson said. Now treatments are different.
“You still worry. Some have had it return after 16 years. It’s always in the back of my mind,” she stated. She’s spoken with others and have heard their stories and then wonders if a hangnail is a sign the cancer has returned. She even remembers having some hip pain and wondering if it had gone to her bones. “You do begin to feel that way,” Nelson said, sharing the pain came while she was caring for her mother. It wasn’t cancer but from lifting her mother.
She noted often breast cancer will turn into bone cancer. “It is beast cancer metastasized,” she said, noting the cancer quickly goes from one area to another.
Blood tests — to check on markers — are now less and less. But “the thought is always there and in your own mind you always wonder,” said Nelson.
She remembers having a mammogram, getting the call from the doctor’s office and being told she had breast cancer. “I was told it could go to the brain,” recalled Nelson, who wondered how far it had spread and thinking “Just don’t let it be in my brain.” Diagnosed with stage two her thought was “I’m half dead. Stage four was incurable. Your mind works in strange ways.”
Fortunately she didn’t have much time to dwell on the diagnosis as within a week appointments were made, a mastectomy was done and chemotherapy started.
Nelson was determined from the beginning to not to let the disease, nor the treatment stop her. She was a single mother with a daughter in college and a son in eighth grade. She wanted to see him get out of high school, then graduate from college. Her daughter helped with her brother. The 10 year age difference was like having two separate families. “They are closer than normal,” Nelson said.
She recalls going to Washington, D.C., a week after her first chemo therapy with her kids. They visited the Washington Monument and she beat the kids up the stairs. “They told each other I wasn’t as bad as they thought. I was determined not to let anything stop me,” Nelson said, adding during her chemo therapy she planned on only missing three days of work — one of those days for the treatment itself. The fourth day was to get back to normal life.
Throughout her battle with cancer and the years since she continues to teach GED classes, keeps the official book for girls volleyball and basketball.
Her experience is not something she hides. “What is amazing to me is once you’re diagnosed, people come out of the woodwork who had it, but had not talked about it,” she stated.
Her hair has since grown back and there’s no sign she went through chemo therapy, except the thermostat in her body. “I’ve said it messed with my thermostat in my body. I’m always hot. But it keeps the electric bill down,” she laughed.