BC: Linda Stokes

Linda Owen Stokes Cruse pauses beside her car tag that tells she is a cancer survivor.

Linda Stokes Cruse is proof that what we think is cancer may not be, while a harmless area with no knots can be cancer.

“I had my first actual scare when I was 19 years old,” said the 57-year-old mother of three. “I found a knot just before I was to be married.”

The knot turned out to be non-malignant and over the next 20 years she had six to seven more to come up and each one had to be removed surgically.

Because of her risk, she was getting mammograms every year “and in September of 2014 a mammogram found a suspicious area,” she said. “And that one was cancer.”

In fact, the mammogram revealed a suspicious area in both breasts, “and when all the tests were run the doctors diagnosed me with ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma.”

Both of these cancers originate in the milk glands of the woman’s breast. Her options were either she could have had the less invasive lumpectomy and radiation or the complete removal of both breasts.

Because of her history, long before the day came to make this decision, Cruse already knew what her decision would be.

“Somehow in my mind I felt that one day I’d have cancer so I knew I would do the bilateral maceotcmy,” she said. This means that she had both of her breasts removed.

Because she took this path of healing, “I had to take tamoxifen for five years.”

Cruse said what surprised her the most about this cancer was “I never felt it because It was deep in my breast and it was small. If I’d waited another year, I’m afraid it wouldn’t have been that small.”

And by her being so cautious it was only six weeks from the first suspicion until her surgery.

“During that six weeks I had three MRI’s and several biopsies to get the correct diagnosis,” she said. “But that six weeks of the unknown was the hardest part of my journey.

“I knew with the initial results not coming back immediately it was cancer. I was already resigned to the fact that one day I’d have it.

“The only tears I shed was telling my brother, Terry. We are real close and it was hard to tell him.”

And she also had to tell her son who had walked with her through dark valleys in life before.

“I just told him it was cancer and I’d have surgery and I would be okay.”

And what assured her she would be okay was the fact that the medical procedures of today are so much more advanced than they were when she was first diagnosed.

“When I was 19, if you were diagnosed they did the surgery first and you didn’t know if it was going to be cancer until you woke up.” She looked thoughtful as she reflected back on that day.

“I was in the regular hospital for the surgery and it was crowded. I was in the hall with a curtain around me. Health care and medical advances have changed tremendously.

“It is a lot more scary not knowing what it will be until you wake up.”

Cruse said the surgery and the healing afterward went very well. “I was only off work there weeks when the doctors said I’d be off six weeks. I am almost hesitant to say I had cancer because I really had such an easy time of it.”

It was the reconstruction of her breasts that was the hardest part. “I wish I would have taken more time to learn about that before I started it,” she said.

Cruse said her surgery was at the breast care center in Tupelo. “They are wonderful.”

But beyond all the help the doctors could offer, Cruse said the only way she got through the six weeks of uncertainty and afterward was through meditating on scripture and leaning on God.

“Philippians 4:13 says ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.’ I felt so much comfort through all of this because of that scripture. Those first six surgeries I had I was scared during every one of them. But through this one, I had peace.

“The staff make you feel so comfortable there that when they first found something I called my husband, Jimmy, and told him and he ask if I wanted him to come and I said ‘no.’”

And she had some candid advice for all women out there. “Be diligent about self breast exams,” she said. “Listen to your body and make a doctor listen to you if you feel like something is wrong.”

Cruse also told women to make sure they get the monthly mammogram and if you are diagnosed with any kind of cancer to “consider your options and get mentally prepared for it.”

Cruse said that cancer does change your life. Her journey afterward has been filled with laughter and love.

“It has made me thankful. I don’t take life for granted. I love seeing my birthday come. It means I’ve had another year. It has me so thankful I could see my precious grand babies.”

Her car tag attests to the fact that she has survived cancer. “My best friend Leslie Geoghegan is the graphics designer at North Mississippi Medical Center. She designed the car tag and part of the proceeds to go cancer entities across the state.”

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