Fourth in a series
(Editor’s note: See Breast Cancer support Page A9)
Two sisters, both living in Sampson County, had breast cancer at the age of 42, but the diagnoses were six years apart. Phyllis Lane and Michelle Murphy both know how to support each other and they have survived double trouble within the last few years, together. Lane was officially diagnosed in March of 2005 with HER 2 receptor breast cancer. Her sister Murphy was later diagnosed at the end of July 2011 with estrogen and progesterone sensitive breast cancer or hormone receptive positive breast cancer. In an interview Wednesday, both ladies explained that there was not a genetic component to their breast cancer.
“We did not have a family history,” said Lane. She explained that her cancer was first caught by an abnormal mammogram. Murphy said that her diagnosis did not come until after a needle biopsy. They both had needle biopsies at different times in their journey. Lane had met with a surgeon in February 2005 and then decided she wanted to do an aggressive clinical trial on a new drug, Herceptin. Herceptin is a specifically targeted therapy for HER2 Positive Metastatic Breast Cancer.
Both women ended up taking Herceptin, among a myriad of other treatments, as well as other drugs like Taxol. When this started for the ladies, Lane had one child in elementary school and the other in middle school. Murphy said one of her children was getting ready to go off to college and the other one had started high school. Murphy said her children seemed not as worried because they already knew that their Aunt Phyllis had already survived breast cancer.
“My children seemed like they just rolled on with life,” said Murphy. Both women said that their families had so much to do with making the situations much more bearable for them. Murphy went with her sister, Lane, to all her treatments and the sisters both supported each other tremendously during this time. They both helped each other as much as they could, using each other as a rock for support during these stressful years. Murphy also said that she had a lot of help through co-ordination support and Lane said her co-workers were instrumental in helping her stay strong.
“My husband and his sister would often each take a child and take them where they needed to be, either school or practice,” said Lane. “It is important to have a huge support system.” The ladies both said that they had a large amount of help from their friends, family, co-workers, and community during these times. Sometimes people would bring the ladies suppers which helped them alleviate some of the stresses.
“It’s not a death sentence,” said Murphy. “Women need to get their mammograms and physicals. I waited a year to get my first mammogram done.” Murphy said that could have been something disastrous, but with the Lord’s help they caught it the first time she had her mammogram done, a year late.
“I had my first mammogram done at 40,” said Lane. “The second one, which was done at 41, is the one that caught the cancer.” The ladies said that one of the most important things for them was early detection and treatment, and not only that, but also the importance of following through with their medications.
Murphy said that after her diagnosis she wanted to be sure about whether or not there was a genetic component to each woman’s cancer. She decided to contact UNC-Chapel Hill hospitals about getting tested. She went to the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Care Center. Lane said that her insurance would not even cover the testing until after her sister had discovered she too had cancer. Both women had their lymph nodes removed, which is common with breast cancer cases and in some other cancers.
Like her sister, Murphy found a study to help her through called the Jeanne Hopkins Lucas Breast Cancer Study. Jeanne Hopkins Lucas was a North Carolina State Senator that died from breast cancer at the age of 71 in March of 2007. This Carolina Breast Cancer Study evaluated breast cancer in both black and white women, according to its website.
Both Lane and Murphy said that these trials and studies were very helpful in their fight against breast cancer. They now have to pay for mammograms out of pocket since insurance considers their mammograms to now be of a diagnostic nature. They also both opted to have mastectomies and have decided not to have reconstructive surgery. Since they did not have the reconstruction, they do have to buy prosthesis and bras, they said.
They explained that they did not want to have reconstruction surgery due to abhorring surgery in general, and that everyone they had talked to at the time seemed to have had problems with their surgery, either pain or infection issues, and the ladies felt that it was not the right choice for them and that they had been through enough dealing with the cancer.
“We both had wonderfully supportive husbands and in-laws,” they said. During Murphy’s time of dealing with the cancer, their mom was in the hospital at Duke, and they were all even more stressed at the time. Lane worked during most of this and stayed home as little as possible. Often she would go straight to school and have her treatments on her lunch breaks. She chose to have her care in Clinton at Southeastern Medical Oncology. Her sister, Murphy, said she stayed home more because she was on different medications that made her sick and she ended up getting her treatments through Cape Fear Valley.
“Whatever you do, make sure that your provider is in your network with your insurance, ” Murphy said. “Otherwise you may end up with a big bill if it’s not.” Both ladies said that they had very nice people who were helpful during these treatments.
“The most important thing is for women to get their mammograms. Early detection is vital,” said Lane. The ladies said that finding resources outside of the traditional sources was particularly helpful for both of them. Lane said they tried to laugh a lot through the experience and that they wanted women to make sure that they didn’t wait to seek help, adding that prayer and thoughtful things like cards kept them both in high spirits. Both women feel blessed, they said, and they want women to stay on top of managing their heath.