By DELANIA TRIGG, Assistant Editor
Gainesville Daily Register
A lump found under her arm has become the challenge of a lifetime for Cooke County resident Margaret Carter.
Carter said she knew right away the inconspicuous mass could be cancer.
Calling Dr. Glenn Sears for her first appointment after the find wasn’t easy, she said.
“It was the hardest call I ever had to make,” she said.
Carter’s breast cancer odyssey began in August 2010.
Obtaining a diagnosis was her first order of business.
Gainesville surgeon, Dr. Bhupinder Khaira, confirmed the mass was cancer and referred Carter to UT Southwestern Medical Center last September where she underwent chemotherapy and radiation regimens and surgery to remove the tumor.
She said she accepted her diagnosis as if it were the start of a wicked roller coaster ride.
“I’m thankful for the doctors and hospital staff here in Gainesville that put me on this (roller coaster) ride and those at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas that guided me as it started to go faster, through all the twists and turns, all the ups and downs. As this ride starts to slow down, I know that it is not yet over,” she said.
Her diagnosis — triple negative metastitic invasive ductal carcinoma involving the left axially lymph node — is sobering.
“My cancer is Grade 3, Stage 2 triple negative which tends to be more aggressive, and the chances of it returning are higher since there is no additional treatment after chemo, surgery and radiation,” she said.
Still Carter has every intention of winning the war against breast cancer.
“At first it’s kind of difficult to wrap your mind around it,” she said of the diagnosis. “You’ve got to keep that positive attitude.”
Carter completed eight chemotherapy treatments.
Dr. Marilyn Leitch, a UT Southwestern surgeon, performed a lumpectomy to remove the breast tumor along with some of Carter’s lymph nodes.
She said doctors recently declared her cancer-free but that she continues a regimen of the anti-cancer drug Herceptin every three weeks.
Herceptin infusions are thought to inhibit receptors which allow cancer cells to divide and proliferate, Carter said.
“I needed to start the Herceptine infusions every three week for a year,” Carter said. “This helps to slow down the cells’ growth.”
The Herceptin treatments should be complete in April, she noted.
At the five year mark, Carter hopes to be declared completely free of cancer.
For now, she said she’s feeling better and plans to take up some of the hobbies she set aside after her diagnosis.
“I have always loved to plant a few flowers in the fall and spring,” she said. “Last year that didn’t happen, now since I am beginning to feel like my old self again, hopefully, I will get out there soon.”
She also said she believes having breast cancer has changed her outlook in some ways.
“ I hope that it made me more sensitive to others, their feelings, needs, wants,” she said. “I know that I need to work on that. So often it is the little things we do for others that really don’t take much effort that make the biggest impact.”
Like most cancer survivors, Carter relied on a faithful network of loved ones who helped out during tough times.
Her husband, Jim Carter, chief deputy for the Cooke County Sheriff’s Department, was her lifeline as were other friends, co-workers and family members, she said.
“I know that I could not have survived the ride had it not been for the love and support from my husband Jim; my kids J.T., Lacey and Tony; my mom — a breast cancer survivor herself — my stepson Jeff and his family; my mother-in-law —a cancer survivor herself twice — my Dad who stayed in touch and all of my extended family, friends, my employer and co-workers and all those that work with Jim at the Sheriff’s Department.
“They all helped to get me through the unknown, the chemo, surgery, radiation, hair loss and realizing that I can’t do it all, that I had to learn to ask for help even though I seldom did.”
Carter jokes that chemo therapy had an unexpected reward — newfound curly hair.
“I tell people I used to pay for my curls,” Carter said. “Now they’re free.”
She also found she prefers her new, shorter hairstyle.
Throughout her treatment, Carter has continued her job at Tom Thumb Food and Pharmacy’s corporate offices in Dallas.
She said she travels to Dallas about three times a week and found her co-workers unfailingly supportive.
“Some people are afraid they’ll be fired for missing too much work when they get sick,” she said. “I never felt that with Tom Thumb. They said, ‘Take off whenever you need to.’”
For some, a cancer diagnosis is a chance to look back at one’s life and make some adjustments.
Carter said her cancer battle made her more spiritual and more likely to find humor even in darkness.
“Every day I ask God to help me make this day a productive day, to have faith, to make every minute count, to be kind, thoughtful and understanding of others,” she wrote in a post-interview essay.
“At night, I ask for his forgiveness if I didn't quite measure up. Life is too short not to be happy, so laugh each day even if it is at yourself. Take chances, always strive to do your best, have no regrets, and realize just how lucky you are because there are so many others out there that have problems much greater than your own... so pray for them.”