Their stories: ‘I never doubted I’d make it through’

Debbie Cole

Debbie Cole had breast cancer seven years ago, or maybe eight. She can’t remember, exactly.

Oh, she could dig out the box of medical records and rifle through it, but ... why?

She’s Debbie, not Cancer. She found the lump, she had the double mastectomy and the reconstruction, and it was huge, horrible and a long time ago.

She’d rather talk about her kids or her grandkids, about her faith, her prayers, her confidence that the sun always rises at the end of the storm.

“As bad as it was then, and I didn’t like it,” Debbie, now 50, says, “I never doubted I’d make it through.”

Now, she speaks with evangelical fervor about what it takes to get through breast cancer. She ticks off a list:

Be your own advocate.

Gather as much information as you can.

Don’t blame yourself for getting sick.

Lean on your family, friends and loved ones.

Know you have choices.

Know it’s not a death sentence.

Ask questions, as many as you can think of.

Know your own body.

They’re lessons she learned walking through the fire. Before the breast cancer, she’d had cervical cancer and a hysterectomy.

She wasn’t unprepared to hear the “C” word, especially since, three years before her diagnosis, her mother had breast cancer and urged her to get a baseline mammogram.

As a nurse, Debbie knew the importance of early detection.

Then, at her yearly mammogram, the radiologist told her she needed extra films. Later, looking at those films, she saw spots through the whole breast.

She saw the look on her doctor’s face “and I said, ‘It just needs to come out, right?’ And she said, ‘Yeah.’ “

Debbie doesn’t pretend it was easy. She tries to be practical.

When she had her hysterectomy, she told herself she’d used that part of her body for what she needed — giving birth to four healthy children — and she could let go. Likewise, with her breast she told herself she’d been able to nurse all four children, so she’d been blessed to use it for what it was intended.

After talking with her doctors, she decided to have a double mastectomy rather than risk cancer spreading to her healthy breast.

She also chose to have reconstruction.

The surgeries were painful and the recovery exhausting. Her youngest daughter was only 4 at the time, so her oldest daughter, who was a student at Mesa State, occasionally stepped into the role of mother.

Debbie’s other two children were in college out of town and wanted to know whether they should come home.

“And I said uh-uh,” she recalls. “I said just go on with your life, have a great time, I’ll call you if I need you. I’m not dying, and I’ll see you at Thanksgiving.”

She was right: She didn’t die, she was able to give her daughter a beautiful wedding even in the midst of the surgeries, and she was tempered for other challenges that followed.

She relied on God and her belief that she’d never be given a challenge bigger than she could handle.

Now, seven — or eight? — years later, she’s just Debbie — wife, mother, friend, nurse, disciple and someone who twice had cancer.


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