Bill Sniffin: October Is Breast Cancer Month – Here Is A Story That Is Up Close And Personal

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

I will never forget the way we celebrated the arrival of the Millennium on Dec. 31, 1999. 

At midnight, I was standing outside our home with the dog watching the fireworks over the golf course hill. I was sipping a glass of Spumante.  Our kids had gone to a party and I was babysitting my wife Nancy and our granddaughter Daylia, both of whom were sleeping.

October is breast cancer awareness month and it is in that spirit that I write this.

My wife Nancy had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 1999 and had been very sick as a result of chemotherapy.  She ended up in the hospital with the flu and I had just gotten her home in time for New Year’s.

Our grown children  were off to New Year’s parties and I stayed home to watch over my two sleeping girls.

When midnight struck, I quietly sneaked into Nancy’s bedroom and gently woke her up.  She was really groggy.  “Happy New Year, sweetie,” I said, and I gently let her take a sip of my wine.  Then she rolled over and went back to sleep.  I walked back to the center of our darkened house and rather ominously pondered what kind of year we were going to have in 2000?

Now, over 21 years later, I can report it was quite a year. Let me tell you about it.

It was in the fall of 1999 at this time when we found out my 52-year old wife had a cancerous tumor in her left breast and cancer in one lymph node. Nancy’s oncologist is a good man with an honest sense of irony.  “I’m going to use some terms with you today,” he said, at our first meeting, “that will sound strange to you. Believe me, by next year, they will become very common to you.”

And, so our journey started.

Thank God we had sold our newspapers in Fremont County and on Maui.  When we got the news, we also still owned interests in five businesses, but all had capable managers, which meant we could fight this thing with all our energy. And the Lander community was wonderful.  We had an unbelievable amount of support and prayers from all over.

Have you ever had someone cook dinner and bring it to your home?  At first, I really fought against this idea. After all, I was healthy and could either boil an egg or run to McDonald’s with little problem.  But then you realize that your friends are reaching out and they want to help you out. So, we relented. And the food was great, by the way.

During the following year we learned a lot about those things the oncologist talked about, such as Cytoxan, Adriamycin, Taxotere, neutropenia, Leukopenia, Zophran, Neupagen, CBC and thrombocytopenia, etc.  These are chemicals, medicines or medical conditions related to the effort to cure breast cancer.

After chemo, she also needed radiation. She rode a bus to Casper for 30 days. She called it “the cancer bus.  It was full of folks, like her, needing to get their dose of radiation.

Sadly, a great number of the people who rode that bus with her are no longer with us. But Nancy was blessed and we still have her with us today.

As for surgery, Nancy had a procedure called a lumpectomy. She came through it very well.

Her oncologist said that after her chemotherapy, if she does the radiation her chance of getting breast cancer again is three percent.  Without the radiation, it is 30 percent.

Those are 20-year old statistics. I am sure they are much today, especially with all the new cancer-fighting techniques and technologies that have been developed since then.

After that first surgery, she had a port surgically installed into an area above her right breast, just below the shoulder. All her blood testing and her chemotherapy were done directly through this port.

The chemotherapy was as bad as people said it would be.  There are now drugs, which prevent much of the nausea that occurred in the past, but it sure wreaked havoc with her white blood cell counts. Of course, she lost all her hair.

She got through her chemo sessions in April, 2000 but developed a bad infection in her leg, which was the result of the low blood count and accidentally bumping it on an open desk drawer.  This led to a quick trip to Casper to meet with an infectious disease specialist and then a deep surgical procedure to drain and repair her thigh.  She didn’t walk for a month.

Finally, we got the word from the oncologist that she could start radiation. 

On Oct. 13, 2000, we got up at 4 a.m. and went to Casper for a treatment and then headed to Cheyenne where Gov. Jim Geringer and his wife Sherri were hosting a reception for breast cancer survivors.

It was fun and it was fun watching Nancy mix with the other women there. I was the only man present and I quietly excused myself, saying, “I was a thorn amongst all these roses.”

As I departed, I looked back and I did think one rose stood out from the rest, though.

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