Embracing Life On Cancer’s Journey

Brenda Frey said her breast cancer journey has been energized by the power of prayer and a positive outlook.

It’s also been enhanced by those with whom she has interacted at Upper Valley Medical Center’s Cancer Care Center, where she received chemotherapy and radiation in 2014.

While discussing her diagnosis and treatment, the resident of the Houston area in Shelby County sported a T-shirt reflecting part of her philosophy. It read: “Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t perfect. Life is good.”

“It is hard. Life is hard,” Frey said. “You have to work at it, just like you have to work at a marriage. You just can’t sit back and let others do everything for you.”

Frey was in recovery from a 2012 stroke, learning how to walk and talk again, when her cancer was diagnosed in late 2013.

“I knew it was breast cancer before I went in. This had been growing in my chest,” she recalled. “I was standing in front of the mirror. I told my husband, ‘I think I had better go in. It is getting worse.’”

After her diagnosis and surgery at St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima, Frey told her doctor it was too far to drive to Lima for treatments. At the recommendation of a relative, she asked for referral to Upper Valley and oncologist Mohan Nuthakki, M.D.

Among Frey’s first stops was a cancer class in which a nurse addressed four cancer patients as a group and then their specific form of cancer as well as what to expect during treatment. Frey was no stranger to cancer; it had killed her mother and maternal grandparents. Still, she had many questions.

She, like other cancer patients, became a regular at the Cancer Care Center, first receiving chemotherapy and then radiation treatments.

“The longer you go, the more you get to know people,” Frey said. She and husband, Tom, came to know the staff well along with other patents. “I enjoyed watching people and meeting people. Some people loved talking to you. I love to listen,” she said.

Tom, who she called her “biggest cheerleader,” befriended Cancer Care Center janitors, she said.

Frey said her faith gave her strength during treatment, and beyond, along with a positive attitude.

She took advantage of the hospital’s amenities for cancer patients, including the Cancer Care Center’s massage therapy services.

“My body is a thing of pain, but I deal with it. If you tell me what is wrong, I can deal with it,” she said. “People need to know their body. When something’s not right, doesn’t seem right, bring it up to the doctor.”

Self-advocacy also is important, Frey said. “You have to be your own advocate. You have to make sure that your questions, your concerns are addressed,” she said. “A question is not dumb. It is dumb if you don’t ask it. Write the questions down.”

A comfort level with the doctor is key. “At Upper Valley Medical Center, you are more than just a number. You are a person. To me, that makes a difference. They have great oncology, radiology departments,” Frey said.

People also need to be aware of local treatment options and consider them, if they can meet the individual patient’s needs, she said.

Frey would like to see more survivors. “But to see more, people need to have their mammograms, their colonoscopies, their prostate checks,” she said.

Dr. Nuthakki said Frey did well overall with her Stage 2 breast cancer treatment coupled with other health problems. She progressed through treatment, now is on oral medication and has a strong support system through her husband, he said.

“She is doing well. When you see her, your heart thinks, ‘Why do they have so many problems?’ Yet, she is upbeat. She is very positive,” he said. “Sometimes when I get down looking at all the problems, she lifts your spirits up. She is that kind of person.”

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