Two-Time Breast Cancer Survivor - A Wife, Mother & Grandmother's Story
In June of 2014, 71-year-old Betty Gammel, wife, mother and grandmother, went in for a scheduled mammogram. It had been nearly six years since she had a lump removed from her right breast. The whole experience had been a scare for Betty and her family but she had gotten through it, with a lumpectomy, radiation and hormone therapy in the form of a five-year pill. In fact, she had just finished the pill just a couple of months before the mammogram.
For Betty, after all she had been through, the results of that mammogram in June were hard to hear. There was a mass, this time in the left breast.
"When they told me I had it again, on my other breast, it was traumatic. But I’m a strong person. I’m a Christian and I know God is going to take care of me."
This time, Betty had HER2-positive breast cancer, a much more aggressive type of breast cancer. At the recommendation of Dr. Jones, Betty had a double mastectomy. She also receives the drug, Herceptin, a targeted therapy for HER2+ cancer, each month through a drip.
The Jones Clinic spoke with Betty about her experience, her treatment and what has changed since learning she had cancer.
When you were first diagnosed with cancer six years ago, what went through your mind?
When they called me, I didn’t cry. I don’t know how I felt because the word cancer is the worst thing you can hear. I called my husband and I told him I have cancer but they want to do a biopsy to make sure. And the biopsy confirmed it. Everything was a whirlwind at first. My family went with me to talk to my surgeon. The doctor gave me hope and said if you’re going to have cancer you have the best kind.
How did you find The Jones Clinic?
I’ve been with Dr. Jones six years now. My sister had breast cancer and had a great experience with Dr. Jones so when my doctors told me about him I already knew about him. He’s right here at home and I just don’t think he could have been any better.
And when you found out you were facing cancer again, this time, a more aggressive type you said that was traumatic. How did The Jones Clinic prepare you for that?
It was traumatic. But Kim (Wilson Hardin) sat me down and said; “we’re going to get this elephant taken care of one day at a time.” I believed her, and I believe Dr. Jones.
Dr. Jones suggested the double mastectomy to save me from having to do radiation. I knew what I went through with the first one. I would get up in the morning and my skin would be left in the bed because of all the radiation. I’m pleased with the decision.
As a woman, it has been somewhat traumatic but it’s not the worst thing in the world. It hurt at first to know I had changed. It’s part of being a woman but sometimes we put our priorities in the wrong place. I’ve always had my pride. I’ve always cared how I appeared and looked and I thought well that’s just going to be awful but it is not. I encourage anyone who has had this happen to them to not let it be as devastating to them as it was to me at first. You have to always remember what is truly important.
Tell me about the treatments you are currently taking.
I have to have a treatment each month of Herceptin, through a drip. It’s very strong.
When I took my first dose – I got so sick. It was the sickest I’ve ever been and it lasted about 21 days. I got the second dose and the next night I got sick again but it only lasted through the night. When I went for the third treatment I told Kim about both times. She put something in it to keep me from getting sick and sure enough I didn’t get sick.
Herceptin can affect the heart so I have to have an echocardiogram every other month. I went Tuesday to get my treatment and I had been short of breath so I told Kim. She said we needed to have my echocardiogram done before I had the next treatment to make sure everything was okay. They take time to listen and understand me. That’s very caring.
As far as other side effects, I had beautiful hair. It does come out to an extent but never to baldness. It is really brittle. My hair is so brittle I’ve started wearing wigs. Your hair feels like wire almost. But it’s all part of it. You have to take the bad to get to the good.
What makes The Jones Clinic so special?
They have always been so kind. They’re so caring. It’s like family. When you’re hurting you need someone who reaches out to you like they care for you – you get that there.
I tell everyone about The Jones Clinic. There are a lot of people who don’t even know he is in town. When you say Dr. Jones is from MD Anderson people are like, “really?” Until you need this kind of help you don’t realize what’s there. I had a friend who was driving to another town and she didn’t realize he was here. I knew a guy who was driving to Texas to go to MD Anderson. I just want to spread the word and let people know this wonderful resource is right here in our town.
If I can just keep my cancer at bay, I’m happy. I wish it had never happened but I’m here and I can live with it. I‘ve lived through a lot. Having a place like The Jones Clinic to go to – you’ve got hope. That’s what I live on each day is faith and hope. And we’re going to get through it.
At The Jones Clinic, we know cancer doesn't care about hospital profits. That's why patients like Betty are always treated as more than a number...more than their diagnosis.
Our patients become part of our family, receiving the cancer treatment they need and the personal care they deserve.