Since the age of 30, Missy Wilson has made annual mammograms part of her routine.
For 11 consecutive years, Wilson received good reports. On the 12th, Wilson got some bad news.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer just over two months ago, on May 25. She has been in a battle ever since.
“It was a total shock, and it happened real fast,” Wilson said. “It was a whirlwind.”
Wilson’s family is one with a history of cancer.
“My mother had breast cancer about 19 years ago,” she said.
That’s not all. Both of Wilson’s grandmothers had cancer — one had cervical cancer, the other, brain cancer. One cousin has colon cancer; another cousin fights breast cancer.
In fact, Wilson’s cousin with colon cancer died the weekend before Wilson went for her mammogram, on May 23. One of her aunts just finished chemotherapy this past year, to fight breast cancer.
Nurses and doctors told Wilson to come back to the office for a second mammogram. Wilson said she didn’t give the matter much thought, not even when her doctor told her to see a surgeon.
“One of the nurses was telling me it could be nothing, and that this was just routine,” she said. “At that point, I still was not worried. My sister had to have a lot of biopsies done, and they had all come back negative.”
Wilson says she was worried about missing work, and wanted to have the biopsy done in a few days. Her surgeon, Philip Fischer, told her he didn’t like what he saw from the tests, and scheduled her for surgery before she left his office.
“I was thinking, wow, we are moving really fast,” she said. “I’m still thinking they are doing this to be precautionary, and if it is cancer, they are going to catch it early.”
Two days after the biopsy, Fischer met with Wilson to confirm the news: She indeed had cancer.
“The most amazing thing happened,” Wilson said. “He asked me if he could pray with me. And I knew then that God was in control.”
The doctor gave Wilson some options. The first was to remove the lump and have chemo and radiation.
Another was to have a mastectomy, or complete removal of the breast. Fischer told Wilson that with her family’s history of cancer, the chance of it coming back would go up each year.
“He told me the other thing I might want to consider would be to go ahead and have a double mastectomy,” Wilson said. “He told me I would not have to worry about this again if I did that.”
Wilson was at the doctor’s office alone that day. She said the doctor gave her so much information, and he wanted her to go home and talk everything over with her family.
“I did not call anybody at first,” Wilson said. “It was just me and God. I rode around for a long time. I went and ate lunch, and as I was eating, I was just sitting there thinking.
“One of the first things that came to my mind was that I was going to have to wear a wig at my daughter’s wedding in September. I will also be on steroids and I am going to be big. Jeff (Wilson’s husband) called me and wanted to know what the doctor said, and I just told him it was not good.”
Wilson then sent her mother a text message telling her she did have cancer, and asked her to come over to her house that night for a family meeting.
Wilson also called her son, Cole Rich, 16, and daughter, Lauren Rich, 20, to come to the family meeting.
Even after talking to his wife on the phone, Jeff was unsure of the seriousness of the situation.
“We’ll be OK, and it’s no big deal,” he said. “I really didn’t understand how serious it was until I went and met with the surgeon.”
When Wilson told her family that she had breast cancer, she said Lauren took it harder than she thought she would.
“She doesn’t show emotion much at all,” Wilson said. “She sat there, and I saw the tears well up in her eyes. She went to the bathroom and stayed for a while. When she came out I could tell she had been crying.”
On the return trip to the surgeon, Wilson took her mother and husband, who told her she had a decision to make. After praying and talking with her family, Wilson decided to have the double mastectomy.
“This just changed my life, because life as you know it, is no more,” Wilson said. “This was not like having your fingernails done, or buying a new outfit. They cut off a piece of my body that I was never going to get back.”
Dr. Philip Fischer performed the double mastectomy on June 19. The two surgeries lasted eight hours. Fisher took out seven lymph nodes, and cancer was in three of the seven.
Dr. Stephen Steinmetz performed the reconstruction.
After three days and two nights at the hospital, Wilson came home, but had to get used to doing things differently. She was unable to sleep on either side, unable to lift her arms and could not wear any clothing that went over her head. She had six drainage tubes coming from her chest area and a pain pump.
Wilson is now set for another battle, as she starts chemotherapy Aug. 2, at St. Vincent’s in Birmingham. She will take a total of six treatments — once every three weeks — that will end Nov. 13. Doctors have told Wilson to plan on being at the hospital for five hours with the initial treatment, and then three hours after that. Dr. Ira Gore is her oncologist.
“The chemo is not what kills you,” Wilson said. “It is the infection. The chemo tears down the immune system. Any infection you may get runs the risk of making you sick and putting you in the hospital.
“I know it is going to make me sick, I just don’t know how sick.”
The treatments will cause Wilson to lose her hair. Her daughter’s wedding is Sept. 29. Before the wedding, she will have already endured three rounds of chemotherapy.
“My hair will start coming out about 14 days after my first treatment,” she said. “By the time I take my second treatment, I will have lost all of my hair.”
Wilson said many people she has not spoken to in years are pledging their support through prayer.
“People have called and offered to come clean my house, go to the grocery store for me, brought food to us and it has just been amazing,” Wilson said. “The beauty shop in Margaret washed my hair for me when I was unable to. The girls there were just great.”
Wilson was also touched by the nurses who cared so much and prayed with her. Nurses have called to check on Wilson.
“It is just amazing to me that the amount of people who care,” Wilson said. “I have received so many cards and letters. It is fun to go to the mailbox. So many churches, even out of state, have put me on their prayer list, and for that, I am so thankful.
“I am even being prayed for in China, because my stepbrother is a missionary there. It is all so awesome.”
Wilson said when she sits at home by herself with nothing to do, she talks to God a lot.
“I know I have made a lot of mistakes in my life, and now is the time to make everything all right,” she said. “I feel like I have been given a second chance. I ask God to use me until He has used me up. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here, and I’m just asking God to show me.”
Wilson said her faith has helped her endure the pain, and will continue to do so.
“Nothing compared to what my Lord and Savior went through when He suffered and died on that cross,” she said.
Wilson’s advice to all those who are not familiar with cancer, especially women, is to schedule yearly mammograms.
“Ask your doctors,” she said. “Many say start getting them at age 40. For me, I started at 30 because breast cancer was something already in my family. My daughter has already been talking to her doctor, and she is just 20.”