When Brenda Fitch decided to garden on a warm spring day in April, she had no idea it would lead to a double mastectomy just two months later.
The long-time London resident had accidentally brushed against some poison ivy during her time in the flower beds and wound up with a rash.
While scratching her chest, where the ivy had spread, Fitch felt a lump. She thought it was “just a cyst” at the time, but made an appointment to get it checked out just in case — taking a rare sick day from work at the Madison County Board of Development Disabilities, where she has worked for more than 20 years.
At the recommendation of her doctor, Dr. Mark Coate of Madison Medical Center, Fitch had a lumpectomy and the mass was sent off for testing.
When the time came to get the results of the biopsy, Fitch was surprised to see her sister’s Mustang parked in the lot.
“She said she didn’t have anything better to do,” Fitch laughed.
Sharon Manion later said that she had requested the day off to be there for her sister.
Fitch, still convinced it was just a cyst, admits she wasn’t entirely paying attention to the doctor until the word cancer came up.
“I think he rambled on about this that and the other because he didn’t want to say that word to me,” Fitch said.
But the results were back and unavoidable — Fitch had stage one breast cancer.
Less than two months later, she underwent a double mastectomy.
“The first thing people do when I come in the room… they look at my boobs,” Fitch said. “It’s like they think they are going to grow back or something.”
Due to her specific type of cancer, she has to take an estrogen blocker for at least five years that thins and weakens her hair.
Fitch describes the first time she went to get her hair cut after being on the pills for a few weeks. The hairdresser, who has been cutting Fitch’s hair for the better half of two decades, couldn’t help but cry. Her hair, which the beautician had always admired, was falling out and that which remained hung limp off her fingers.
Fitch left with a shorter cut than usual and small gifts from the friend to help her out, supplements and a special treatment to make the hair stronger.
But to the survivor, the physical side effects aren’t what make breast cancer so ugly.
“I’m not so vain that because I don’t have any boobs and my hair is falling out… it doesn’t bother me as much as the thought of it coming back,” Fitch said. “If I get a pain in my back or my head or my stomach, I think immediately, ‘Is that cancer?’ That thought will probably never go away.”
That fear isn’t just in Fitch, but in her family, too. She explained that her brother, Jack, has told her he loves her more in the past six months than he has his whole life before that. The whole ordeal has made her “more of aware of who out there really loves (her).”
While her family and co-workers played a vital role in her recovery, Fitch says that Ruth Roddy was there during the worst of it. Roddy, a registered nurse and Breast Care Support Specialist at Madison Health, held Fitch’s hand during her lumpectomy and talked her through the procedure.
“That Ruth — she’s a doll. You’re not going to find any better people than I had at Madison Health. There were so many times (Roddy) was there when she didn’t have to be. We are fortunate, we really are,” Fitch said.
It’s now been a little more than five months since her surgery and Fitch says that at times she forgets that she ever even had cancer. There are reminders of course, like her smaller chest or the stray hairs on her shirt. When she hears an “I love you” from someone where they usually were silent. The worried looks she still catches from her mother.
Throughout these reminders, Fitch keeps a positive attitude. She says, “I’ve got my three “F’s” — my faith, my family, my friends. So “F” it, I’m fine!”
Reach Erin Thompson at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615.