Breast Cancer: Picture of hope, renewal

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rachelle Blake
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
According to recent research, about one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. To help battle the disease, they are encouraged to begin receiving an annual mammogram around the age of 40.

For one retiree's wife, it may be the reason she is alive today.

"The annual mammogram is so important, especially in my case, where the cancer was almost off the radar," said Therese Evans, wife of retired U.S. Air Force Maj. James Evans Sr. and breast cancer survivor. "Having the ability to compare my results from one year to the next may have saved my life. I also felt that way about the radiology team at the base."

Evans had been having an incredible couple of years when she discovered she had cancer. It was only a short time before, when an old love stopped by to sweep her off her feet.

"We dated 30 years prior in college," said Evans who attended Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. "But, we headed down different roads and he joined the Air Force. We lost touch, and he married and had a family here. Sadly, his wife passed away in 2007 from lung cancer."

It didn't take long for the spark to be reignited and after thirty years of teaching music in Tennessee, Evans retired and joined her husband in Nebraska. She has grown very close to her new family and even found a way to continue teaching music.

"My daughter is also a music teacher," Evans said. "My wedding present to her was to get my teaching license here and substitute for her while she was doing her wedding planning."

The family also meets at least once a week to enjoy a meal together.  So, it may not be hard to imagine the devastation Evans felt when she received the news.

"I had my annual mammogram in late spring of 2010 in Nashville," she said. "I have a doctor there who I am really attached to, so annual stuff I just go home and do. The letter from him eluded my attention for a couple months. But, then I read it again and saw that there was a suspicious shadow."

In December, Evans made an appointment with Offutt's Ehrling Bergquist clinic.

"To their credit, they really had to look for it because it was almost in the left wall and it was very hard to see," she said.

They went on to do a biopsy.

"On Dec. 8, I got the call that I had cancer," Evans said.

Her first thoughts were of her new family.

"I think I was more concerned about them initially, then I was about myself, and that is not to sound heroic," Evans said. "I thought 'this family does not need to do this again.' James told me in words that he was scared spitless. But, his first wife had such a different, severe, aggressive cancer, that we just knew this was going to go down a different road."

The major echoed her sentiment.

"Sure, I was a little scared after going through the grim ordeal with Debby, my first wife," her husband said. "But, I was convinced that God had not given Therese back to me after 30 years just to take her away again. And when we met with the surgeon, I found out that breast cancer was far more treatable than other kinds of cancer. So I was pretty calm through most of the process."

She said her husband was her rock. He remained tranquil, but it took a toll on her.

"Everything just seemed to stop," Evans said. "There was a lot of discussion with God. I was holding on to some promises and I didn't see how cancer fit in."

Before Christmas, she met with her surgeon and the fears seemed to melt away.

"We met with Dr. Janet Grange," Evans said. "She looked at it and told us it had almost made it to stage two, but not quite. Her words were to the effect of, 'we will go in there, take it out, remove some lymph nodes near it, and test immediately to see if there are any other cancer cells there.'"

She said within minutes of talking to the doctor, the words "years down the road" were brought into the conversation and she knew she could relax. She also discovered the surgeon was truly invested in her cause.

"Dr. Grange lost her sister to breast cancer," Evans said. "Her sister was only in her 20's and she will tell you that it changed her whole life. She only deals with breast surgery."

The surgeon took four lymph nodes and didn't find any additional cancer cells, so there was no need for an aggressive removal. But, they weren't in the clear yet.

"They now do a genetic coding on the tumor," Evans said. "Mine was hormone sensitive and they knew chemotherapy has had very little effect with that type. So, we elected to do 33 treatments of radiation."

The purpose of the radiation was to kill any cancer that may have been missed. Evans had to wait a month after surgery for the tissue to heal before she could start treatments.

"I took three treatments a week and ended in May," she said. "It was something I did not dread going to do. The staff was so wonderful and I was very lucky. The major side effects of radiation treatment can be exhaustion or burning. It wasn't until my last treatment that I burned and I only had one weekend where I didn't get out of bed."

It has been three and a half years since her treatment was complete. But, because her cancer was hormone sensitive, she is on a five year journey of taking a hormone blocker once a day.

Initially she also had to have a mammogram twice a year on the left breast where the cancer was found.

"The first time I went back in to radiology, I took flowers to them," Evans said. "I told them they saved my life."

She has also provided some of her own photography for the mammogram area. She felt it was a way for her to give back.

"I started taking photos when I married," Evans said. "My husband and I are Civil War enthusiasts so we travel a lot and we take lots of pictures."

She also gives out photographs she has taken with something pink in nature to remind women to get their mammogram. She writes on the back, "Even in nature God paints a picture of hope and renewal."

Overall, she said her journey could have been a lot worse and she is grateful to the people who surrounded her during her time of need.

"I was so blessed with a family of support and such great medical staff," Evans said.