Linda Barnett and Barbara Blake have been buddies for more than 40 years.
The two have a lot in common: a love for old, nostalgic things; an appreciation for a good restaurant; and successful nursing careers.
Throughout the years, they also shared a few, less pleasurable seasons during their friendship, like their bouts with breast cancer.
Though their diagnoses were a decade apart and with different avenues of treatment, they both agree approach and attitude are key to making sound decisions when battling the deadly disease.
Barnett was diagnosed in 2000 after a routine mammogram. She was working as an oncology nurse at North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC) at the time.
“It was very tiny, two to three centimeters,” Barnett said. “I had an ultrasound, followed by a needle biopsy.”
The results were difficult to hear. Her cancer was aggressive.
After consultation with her doctor, Barnett sought the advice of an oncologist. It was something she felt very strongly about, especially since she worked for the group.
“I trusted them, and I wanted to hear what they had to say,” she said.
She didn’t stop there. She researched, asked questions, and educated herself about every option.
If the cancer was going to play an aggressive game, Barnett was going to play more aggressively.
Her goal was to make the best decision she could for herself.
She opted for the mastectomy, losing her left breast, followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments.
Barnett would arrive at work early, take her radiation treatments and continue to work throughout the day.
Adriamycin, the brightly colored chemo drug often called “Big Red” or “The Red Devil” was the drug used to wage war against her cancer. It was the same drug she had administered to others as an oncology nurse. She knew what to expect.
The treatment would cause her to lose her hair permanently. The days were difficult, but she was determined.
That was almost 20 years ago.
“I don’t mind wearing a wig, and I don’t mind having one breast,” Barnett said. “I’m still here, and I am blessed.”
She continues to get a yearly mammogram on her right breast. Being pro-active concerning her health is a priority.
Blake was diagnosed in 2010 while she was working as a home health nurse.
Much of her job was wound care. One day during a home visit, she was changing the bandages of a patient who had had a recent mastectomy. She listened as the women told the story of how she first discovered a sore spot on her breast and how that led to her diagnosis.
As her patient continued her story, Blake reached to the table for more gauze, as she reached back her arm brushed across her breast. She felt a sore spot.
“I just remember thinking “uh oh,” during that moment,” she recalled. “I called and made an appointment the next day.”
It was breast cancer.
Blake did the same as her friend. She researched, she asked questions, and she sought the advice of her doctor and an oncologist.
She was told her cancer was contained and had not reached her lymph nodes. Her method of treatment was mastectomy of the right breast with no treatment.
It was not supposed to return.
In 2018 Blake’s arm began to swell. Initially diagnosed with Lymphedema, she was at a doctor’s appointment when the nurse felt a knot in her underarm. It was half the size of an egg. A pathologist was contacted immediately.
The cancer diagnosis came quickly and this time with harsh treatments.
Blake went through four rounds of chemo and 25 radiation treatments.
The radiation burned completely through to her back and became even more painful when she developed shingles.
“The shingles were more painful than the radiation,” Blake gave a sarcastic snicker as she talked about it. “They’re still painful.”
She said keeping a positive attitude (equally matched with her wit) is vitally important.
The two find support in one another and continued to find humor in their shenanigans as they talked about their trips to Blake’s treatments. What was only a brief time at the doctor’s office for radiation, often turned into an all-day affair visiting antique shops and restaurants. Their families were none the wiser, until now.
Often finishing one another’s sentences and filling in the occasional word during a “senior moment,” the retired nurses offer their best advice for others concerning their health and especially those who are facing breast cancer.
“Get your mammogram. It’s important,” Blake said. “Get anything suspicious checked out and see an oncologist.”
Without hesitation, her friend chimes in.
“Definitely see an oncologist. Educate yourself, read, study and ask questions,” Barnett said. “Be wise and do due diligence when it comes to your body.”
“Yes,” they agreed simultaneously, leaving no doubt where they stand.
Both their lives and their statements prove they are ardent believers in the sermons they preach.