Uphill Battle

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 14, 2004

Charlotte Majors is a living example that there is life after breast cancer.

The 50-year-old, mother of two was diagnosed with the deadly disease on Oct. 13, 2003 and her life was flipped upside down.

Now a year later, the avid reader and financial specialist at Luverne Health and Rehab is in remission and thanks God everyday that she is alive to experience the things that people take for granted everyday.

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"There is life after cancer and you appreciate it more after you have had cancer," Majors said. "You enjoy the little things in life like a sunny day, the flowers and trees and all of God's creations, it brings all of that to light. You thank God everyday that you lived another day."

From the time Majors first discovered a lump in her breast until the last chemotherapy treatment, she feared that she wouldn't wake to see the sunrise another day.

"I was horrified because my sister had just died in 1998 from liver cancer," Majors said. "I was scared to death. My first thought was 'Am I going to be dead in three months like my sister was.' You always think about your family because they've already gone through so much, so how would they be able to go through this."

Prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer, Majors wasn't one to perform self-breast exams and had only had one mammogram. She said her love for reading is what persuaded her to give herself a self-exam.

"I got a Women's Day magazine on Oct. 7, which was the day I found the lump," Majors said. "An article about breast cancer jumped out at me like a sign from God and I did a breast examination and found a lump that night. I thought I was just being paranoid because of the article and the fact my sister had cancer, so I did the self-examination two more times the next day and the lump was still there. The following day I called my doctor and he was concerned and asked that I come in immediately."

Majors' first of many doctor visits began Oct. 9 when she went in to have a mammogram, ultrasound and a needle biopsy. Even though the test results wouldn't be back for several days, she was told it looked as if she did have cancer.

The results of the biopsy came back on Oct. 13 verifying that Majors had a rare form of breast cancer that normally doesn't originate in the breast. The form of cancer she was diagnosed with normally forms somewhere else throughout the body and later metastasizes to the breast.

"At that point I just felt like it was all over me," Majors said. "At that point I just felt sure I was going to die. She even said that she had never seen a case like mine, she had read about it in books, but she had never seen it."

To ensure that the cancer hadn't originated anywhere else in the body, Majors had to visit the oncologist on Oct. 14. Dr. Stephen Davidson at the Montgomery Cancer Center performed a PET Scan that would determine if Majors had cancer in any other parts of her body.

Once again, it was sit and wait for the results to come back.

Fortunately for Majors, the cancer did originate in her breast and was not discovered anywhere else in her body.

"That was a blessing," she said. "I was more relieved to know that it was only in my breast and it could be treated. I knew I had a better chance of survival."

A few weeks after being diagnosed, Majors made the decision to have a mastectomy, which is surgical removal of the cancerous breast. She said the decision was to help keep her mind at ease following chemo.

"It was at my insistence that I had the mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy because I would never have any piece of mind," Majors said. "It was good that I did because they found cancer in one lymph node."

In December, Majors started her series of 16 chemotherapy treatments, which lasted through May 17. She said although beneficial, the treatments were very difficult.

"There are a lot of ups and downs to having chemo," Majors said. "I was fortunate that I didn't have any nausea, but I had a lot of nervousness and pain because of all the shots for your blood count. My major problems were the pain, achiness and nervousness."

Although she was being subjected to massive amounts of treatments, Majors continued to work while undergoing therapy. She said the power of prayer helped her through.

"I believe I'm here today because of all the prayers," Majors said. "God listened and God answered those prayers."

Majors has been in remission for five months. She is currently on a drug called Arimidex, which she'll have to take everyday for the next five years. She said the drug too has side effects.

"My problem with it is that I don't have a real good appetite," she said. "I've lost a lot of weight since this started. It has a lot of side effects like any drug on the market does these days."

Along with her medication, Majors will also have to visit the cancer center periodically over the next five years in order for doctors to keep a close watch on her.

Although the road to recovery is long and hard, Majors said faith is one of the best medicines.

"You can't give up, you have to be optimistic," she said. "No. 1 is you have to have faith in God, you have to have a positive attitude and my advice to every woman is to do self-breast examinations and to have mammograms regularly. Never think it can not happen to you because it can."