Breast Cancer Profiles – Don’t Call Breast Cancer a Journey
‘Don’t Call Breast Cancer a Journey’
By Whitney Bermes
“It’s not a journey anyone wants to go on,” said 56-year- old Nancy Ellsworth of Belgrade. “You just deal with it, you go through it.” And Ellsworth has done just that.
Ellsworth was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer at the end of August in 2014 after finding a lump on her breast. But even before Ellsworth had any indication of the disease inside of her, her loyal dog Squishy, a half French bulldog and half Boston Terrier, was on to something. “He kept sticking his nose up in my arm pit and he wouldn’t stop,” Ellsworth recalled.
After finding the lump, Ellsworth visited her regular doctor who then scheduled a mammogram for her the next day. A biopsy followed a few days later. Even before getting her results, Ellsworth’s straight shooter of a doctor “pretty much told me I had breast cancer,” she said. “I kind of panicked,” she said. Later that same week, Ellsworth visited with a surgeon, who gave her two options. She could have surgery to remove the tumor or she could try chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumor.
Ellsworth chose the chemo, which included eight rounds. The rounds were once a week and were all-day affairs at the doctor’s office. “It just felt like I was on a hamster wheel,” she said. But the chemo worked, dramatically shrinking the size of her tumor. “I was really thankful that it did,” she said.
Ellsworth eventually had a lumpectomy in January 2015. It took her a few weeks to recover and she went to physical therapy to get the use of her arm back. “Works great now!” she said recently, stretching her arm out. Ellsworth also endured radiation throughout her battle with breast cancer. Today, she is cancer free, although she had a scare a couple months back after a routine mammogram showed something on her right breast.
Thankfully, a biopsy came back showing the mass was benign, and Ellsworth had another lumpectomy to remove it last month. “So far, everything’s fine,” she said. When first diagnosed, Ellsworth said she was in shock and scared for how she would afford the treatments.
But throughout her surgeries, treatments, therapies and recovery, she kept a positive attitude. “You really need to,” she said. “You have to have a sense of humor. I found it helped me.” Ellsworth also stressed the importance of having a strong support system. In addition to her partner, Ellsworth had a good group of friends from work as well as her pets to help her through the tough days. She recalled before chemotherapy, she had thick, curly hair that hung down well past her back. Right before her second treatment, Ellsworth’s hair began falling out in clumps. So the morning before her second treatment, “I said, ‘Just shave it off.’” Sitting in her dining room, her partner Sean got the clippers out and started shaving her head.
“Tears were just rolling down my eyes,” she said. Again, cue Squishy. The pooch jumped in her lap and started crying. And outside of her home, Ellsworth takes part in a support group at the Cancer Support Community in Bozeman where women can help each other and share what has helped them.
“Everybody’s diagnosis, everybody’s treatment is different,” she said. Ellsworth tells other women who have breast cancer to remember not to be alone. While having quiet time is important for recuperation, try and surround yourself with a support network. And don’t sweat the small stuff. “Your focus is to take care of yourself,” Ellsworth said.
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