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Family helped me fight cancer

Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Family helped me fight cancer

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Linda Lewis has learnt not to get stressed out about the little things in life that just don’t matter. Unfortunately, it took a bout with breast cancer five years ago to give her a whole new perspective on life.
“I found the lump one day when I was in the shower,” she said. “Immediately I knew it was cancer . . . I just knew. So I went to the doctor right away and they confirmed the diagnosis. Since I work at the hospital, I went over to the surgeon’s office, told him I wanted him to put me on his list for Thursday and hugged him and burst out crying.
“I just wanted this ‘thing’ out. It was as if some foreign substance was in me and I wanted it gone and I’d deal with the rest later.”
That was the start of a 15-month process of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and subsequent medications to keep the disease at bay.
When Linda told her two daughters, they were initially heartbroken. After the news sank in, they sprang into action figuring out how she would get to and from treatment, and more importantly how their mother would pay for it all.  
“The treatment is very expensive” said Linda’s daughter Carol-Ann Gollop. “When she told us what it would cost for treatment, we sat down and worked everything out. We had fund-raisers and luckily for her, insurance kicked in.”
“It’s $5 000 every month for the medication,” Linda chimed in. “I’m frightened to add up the bills . . . I have them in a drawer, but I’m too afraid to look at them. I know that when I add them up I’ll see that I could have built a house out of them.”
Naturally, as part of the process of chemotherapy and radiation Linda lost all her hair.
“I went one day to the hairdresser and she said ‘You look like a cat with mange; come’, Linda recalled, laughing. “We just shaved it right off. I couldn’t find a wig that fit me in the colouring that suited me, so I just went with the bald head.”
According to her daughter, “she would sport the big earrings, make-up, bald head. She dressed it up,”  she said with a smile.
Linda is very clear on what got her through one of the darkest periods of her life – the support of her family.
“That family support is so important. I was already divorced but I know of other women who have gone done the same road and the husband left,” she said. “Some husbands have been extremely supportive, but there are others who want to help but don’t know how and have walked out. Then there’s the whole issue of a woman’s sexuality. It’s not just the diagnosis.”
While the support was a lifeline to her during an incredibly difficult time, Linda admits that she battled her own trying moments in private.
“I went through a stage where I felt very sorry for myself and I tried not to let my daughters see it. I’m not sure if my daughters knew it . . . I live on my own so when I’d go home on evenings following the chemo it wasn’t all good times,” Linda said.
“I remember one day sitting and crying in the doctor’s office and I said to him I have cancer and I’m going to die. He said to me, ‘You have to look at it as if you have a serious illness. People die from high blood pressure and from diabetes’. So I started to think along those lines.”
A big part of Linda’s treatment regimen was the drug Herceptin, which she was to take because of the nature of her cancer – which was HER2-positive.
Unlike some women who go through the reconstructive process, Linda opted not to do it for a variety of reasons.
“I know there are a lot of women now who, after having the surgery, go overseas and have their [reconstruction] surgery. That is not really available here. I thought about it but I couldn’t afford it. I thought of doing it last year but when I saw how the economy was going I said, ‘You know, I could use that money to do something else’,” she said. “I never had the reconstruction done.”
What Linda has done through the assistance of her daughter Carol-Ann is start The Little Pink Gift Foundation, a charity to help provide individuals with the funding necessary to aid in their treatment of breast cancer.
Linda is currently taking the drug Femara, which helps protect against the return of breast cancer.
“I’m on Femara now and I’ve got another year of that to take,” Linda says. “One of the things is [that] you try to change up your lifestyle. You try to eat healthy. 
“But it’s been five years now. Before I would look at that scar and it would seem so awful and now it’s just there; it’s just a scar,” Linda said. “You come to terms with it.”