Meadville Tribune

October 23, 2013

BREAST CANCER AWARENESS: Local survivor stories — Alma Shafer

By Alma Shafer
Special to The Meadville Tribune

BLOOMING VALLEY — Cancer, that foreboding word, that dreaded disease.

My name is Alma Shafer, and my husband and I and two youngest sons live close to Blooming Valley. We have nine children and five grandchildren.

Four months ago I discovered a lump on my one breast even though I was not doing a self-exam. Was it coincidence, or was it God’s hand on mine that led me to what I needed to find?

Days later in Dr. Jodi Maxfield’s office, I sensed her concern as she asked questions and examined me. She would order a mammogram and an ultrasound and find out what was going on. My own fears escalated at the seeming urgency when they handed me papers and told me to take them on over to the hospital. I had a mammogram last year, and was not planning to have another one for a couple of years. I’m sobered by the thought of how my story could read if God had not intervened.

Following the ultrasound, the nurse left the room to speak with the radiologist. She was soon back and with her was Dr. Frederic McDermott. His presence combined with the seriousness about him further convinced me that not all was well. He needed to do a biopsy … right now. I lay there barely able to wrap my mind and emotions around all that was happening. I had tried to prepare myself for what now seemed evident. That word that we don’t want to say. We could wait up to five days to know for sure. I left the hospital feeling weak and shaken.

Even though my husband and children were waiting for a report from my doctor visit, they were shocked by what I had to tell them. It was a sobering time for all of us. But we also knew that God would give strength and grace for whatever was ahead.

The report came back in record time. Dr. Martin Decker, our family physician called to inform me that, yes, it was malignant. They wanted to do an MRI, which revealed another area, and yet another biopsy had to be done. The prognosis was now a mastectomy for sure.

An appointment was promptly set up with a surgeon. We were in Dr. Christopher Weibel’s office on a Friday morning to discuss the details of the surgery. When they told us they can do it Monday morning, we almost couldn’t believe it. We felt we were on a roller-coaster ride and could hardly keep up with it all.

The surgery was June 24th and they told us everything went well. I was able to come home the next afternoon. I needed those few weeks following to process everything. Even though I knew what was done it didn’t prepare me for those extremely difficult moments when reality set in. I needed time to heal and time to adjust. I had family and friends surrounding me with much kindness. People brought flowers, food, cards and helping hands for what I could not do. God felt so present, comforting me, and giving me His peace.

In late July we met with our oncologist, Dr. Zulfiqar Hussain. There we learned more about the type of cancer we were dealing with, what stage it was, how aggressive, etc. We discussed what the treatment plan would be. Thankfully, the lymph nodes were all clear. The doctor ordered a special test which determined I would not need to go through chemotherapy. I would need hormonal therapy, but first we needed to know if radiation was necessary. He arranged an appointment with Dr. Annaliisa McGlinn and she informed us well of what we needed to know. She encouraged us to take time to think it over, pray about it and get back to her with our decision.

Meanwhile, I have been getting physical therapy at the Grove Street hospital for the discomfort of tight muscles and swelling from the lymph edema. Maggie McMunigle is a wonderful therapist and under her care I have regained a lot of motion with my arm. Diane Breiding will help more with the lymph edema issue when the radiation is done.

My radiation treatments started Sept. 3 and are done five days a week. I am on the homestretch now with 25 behind me and eight more to go. I’m getting a little sore and a little weary, but I agree with my caregivers that I can make it! Dr. McGlinn and her team are great. Katie King, Kristy West, Amy and Jennifer Doddo are the girls who work with me regularly. I miss Sue Kilburn on the days I don’t see her. Cindy, the patient after me, is usually waiting when I get there and I feel a kinship with her, too.

The Yolanda Barco Oncology Center is a lovely place. So spacious, bright, and cheery inside and out. Beautiful wall hangings, poetry, verses, and words of faith, hope, courage, joy and peace are everywhere!

The outdoor gardens, with benches along the walkway, a waterfall, and a fountain make a very therapeutic place for one to rest and relax. Along with the people there, the whole atmosphere is one of comfort and caring. I feel so blessed by all the help and encouragement I have received from this place.

My cancer story is being written and God is the writer. I can only tell you where he has taken me up until now. I conclude at this point with these borrowed words: “He gives me grace to persevere, new courage to go on, his love dispels the cloud of fear, and fills my heart with song.”