By Ingrid Howard
When Linda Brady was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, she didn’t understand a lot of what the doctors were telling her.
She was 61 years old and had gone to the doctor for her regular gynecological exam and mammogram. She made sure to have the recommended regular tests, especially because she had a history of breast cancer in her family.
When she had the exams in 2016, the doctors found a “pretty interesting spot,” she said. A couple of weeks later, she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma.
“You hold out hope that’s not going to be what the doctor’s diagnosis is, but then when you hear it, you really don’t get much further after the word ‘cancer,’” she said. “You miss a lot.”
Her husband always went with her to her appointments, and Brady said she was glad for that second set of ears.
“The best way I can describe it is, there are a lot of voices in my head,” she said. “You’re being asked to make a lot of big decisions in a short amount of time.”
Four weeks after her diagnosis, Brady went in for a double mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery. She got a good report from her doctor, and she didn’t need chemotherapy. But the surgeries still were hard on her, she said.
“I was riding that high,” she said. “Oh lord, I’m going to live! You’re so happy that you get to live, and then all of a sudden I was exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping. I was in a lot of pain from the surgeries. And basically, I was not recovering to the level of my life that I wanted to be.”
She decided to go to a breast cancer support group meeting at Forge Breast Cancer Survivor Center. Forge is a partnership between The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, Brookwood Baptist Health, Grandview Medical Center, St. Vincent’s Health System and UAB Medicine. It provides services for women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, including telephone support, counseling, events, advocates and support group meetings.
Taking part in the support group didn’t make her feel better at first, especially because so many people there had reoccurrences of their cancer.
“I went home crying,” she said. “I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I’m never going back.’”
But she took home a brochure about Forge and called the center two days later. She said it was the best phone call she ever made.
An assessment at Forge revealed she had anxiety and depression. She made goals and saw a counselor, a free service through Forge. She decided she wanted to control something in her life, so she took control of her diet.
“I wanted to eat well to try and fight cancer and fatigue,” she said. “And that may seem like a really small thing, but it was a big thing for me. I wanted to be able to do that for myself.”
Sharing Their Stories
Another goal of hers was to talk to more survivors.
“I needed to know, ‘Does your back hurt this bad? What did your doctor tell you?’ I needed to swap stories with people who knew what I was talking about,” she said.
Brady was Forge’s ninth client. Eighteen months later, she was asked to speak at breast cancer survivor groups at Forge.
“It’s kind of like you joined a club you never wanted to be a part of, but then you find out it wasn’t as bad as you thought,” she said. “And you meet lots of nice people along the way who are in the same boat with you.”
It’s been 2½ years since the day she got her diagnosis. Brady doesn’t call herself cured, but she has been calling herself a survivor since day one.
“The day I was diagnosed, I can call myself a survivor, because my intent is that I am going to be a survivor,” she said. “My journey starts today – the day you are diagnosed. That is basically, I think, what all women need to be told today.”
Brady recommends that people take a significant other, friend or relative with them to their appointments.
“I have to give kudos to my husband as my co-survivor,” she said. “He was absolutely above and beyond the call. He was listening to the doctors and hearing everything that I wasn’t. … You just don’t know what you’re missing, and you need a second set of ears to hear it.”