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The tie that binds: Women rely on friendship and a ‘medical dream team’ to conquer breast cancer

Sharing he experience

Close friends Ann Eidson and Janet Haynes wear matching pink bracelets as a sign of solidarity in their joint fight against breast cancer. Mark Wineka/Salisbury Post

Close friends Ann Eidson and Janet Haynes wear matching pink bracelets as a sign of solidarity in their joint fight against breast cancer.
Mark Wineka/Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — Ann Eidson and Janet Haynes have a lot in common.

They both attended East Rowan High School around the same time, meaning they share many mutual friends. They both have good, longstanding jobs with F&M Bank. They both have two grown children.

And lately, they have an affinity for pink.

Eidson and Haynes, the closest of friends, were each diagnosed with breast cancer in their early 50s, and each woman decided to have both breasts removed and undergo reconstruction.

They are at different points in their journeys. Eidson had her reconstructive surgery in July 2015, only to learn of her friend’s diagnosis of breast cancer last December.

After her breast surgery in March and dealing with a few complications after that, Haynes is scheduled for her own reconstructive surgery in November.

Eidson and Haynes say they probably went against the grain by choosing to go with bilateral mastectomies.

“I had to make a decision so I wouldn’t live in fear every year,” Haynes says. “I wasn’t going to let breast cancer wreck my life. Dr. (Samuel) Roy can put you back together and do a good job of it.”

Eidson and Haynes acknowledge they have cried at times, but at no point has either woman questioned, “Why me?”

“We really have never gone there,” Janet says. “You do what you have to do.”

Dr. Samuel J. Roy of Piedmont Plastic and Oral Surgery Center performed Eidson’s reconstructive surgery, as he will for Haynes. He says the women have the best of attitudes, and he looks forward to their appointments, which by need and design are many.

“Not all my breast cancer patients are this way,” Roy says. “They (Eidson and Haynes) just have a nature that will get them through anything in life.”

•••

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the tissues of the breast.

About one in eight women born in the United States will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. It is the second most common kind of cancer in women behind skin cancer.

If Eidson and Haynes could leave people with any message, it would be to take self-screening breast exams and regular clinical breast exams and mammograms seriously.

When breast cancer is detected early and is in a localized stage, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the five-year relative survival rate is 100 percent.

Eidson and Haynes also think a major part of their experience revolves around the care they received from staff and doctors affiliated with Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

“We call them our medical dream team,” Haynes says.

After receiving their diagnosis, they were immediately connected with Jill McNeely, Novant Health Rowan’s breast health navigator.

“Your head can be spinning,” Roy says. “Without her (McNeely) coordinating this, it would be a failure.”

McNeely lined up all the necessary appointments with the oncologist, the plastic surgeon and surgeon, because “it’s a lot to take in,” Eidson says, and things move quickly.

Dr. Leon B. Newman of Salisbury Surgical Associates was the surgeon for Eidson’s bilateral mastectomy. For Haynes, it was Dr. Eric J. Mallico of the same office.

Roy was in the operating room for both women. He assisted in determining the lines for where the general surgeons should cut, because that would be important in his placement of expanders, the first step toward reconstruction.

Both women also frequent the office of Dr. William M. Brinkley, their oncologist.

“It takes a village,” Haynes says. “… It’s not a walk in the park, this little journey.”

•••

Eidson and Haynes have kept journals, mostly filled with dates and appointments, medical things they wanted to remember, gifts they received, medications they were taking, what questions they had for doctors the next time, and a few personal notes.

“Here’s a good one,” Eidson says of one entry. “’It hurt, but I weeded the landscape.”

Eidson’s breast cancer diagnosis came in June 2013 during a regularly scheduled mammogram. Her cancer was lobular carcinoma, which tends to show itself on both sides, a fact playing into her decision to have a double mastectomy in July of that same year.

“The last thing you want to do is wait,” Eidson says. “They act as soon as you want to act.”

She received the news she had breast cancer on a Friday afternoon, and by the following Monday she was meeting with McNeely.

The cancer had not reached any lymph nodes, so Eidson would not have to go through any radiation or chemotherapy. It was considered Stage 1.

Eidson had no history of breast cancer in her family. In 2007, she had a “suspicious” mammography, but a biopsy taken turned out to be OK.

At first, when the 2013 report came back positive for cancer, Ann didn’t tell her husband, Wally.

“I was beyond shocked when they said, ‘You have breast cancer,’” Eidson says.

The first reaction for many women — and Ann was no exception — was, well, there’s no history.

“But it can happen to anyone,” Eidson says now.

Eidson’s biggest fear was telling her parents, who already had lost a son. She contacted her pastor, who reassured Eidson her parents could handle the news — and did.

“They were much stronger than I was,” she says.

After her breast surgery and before her reconstruction could begin, Eidson had a lot more to deal with.

She had a frozen shoulder, which would require two tough operations and therapy in December 2013 and June 2014. She went through an emotional wringer when her beloved parents, Shotgun and Helen Rae Talbert, died from injuries they sustained in an automobile accident.

Eidson also had to prepare for a son’s wedding, for which Roy helped in providing her with prosthetic breasts. “I called them my Easter boobs,” Eidson recalls.

In July 2015, she had her reconstructive surgery. “I have my frequent flyer miles over there at Novant,” Eidson says. “They know me well.”

Ann was 51 when she received her breast cancer diagnosis. She takes tamoxifen daily because she had a hormone-fed cancer. The tamoxifen is prescribed for five years, and she has been taking it for three.

At first Eidson saw Dr. Brinkley, the oncologist, every three months. Now, she has to visit his office only twice a year. She still has regular appointments with Roy.

“Dr. Roy gets paid about 25 cents a visit when you break it down,” Haynes says.

•••

Eidson is the manager of bank-owned property for F&M, working in the credit department for 14 years.

Haynes is a banking officer and board administrator who has been with F&M for 35 years. She was 52 when diagnosed.

“I’m a wimp when it comes to medical procedures,” Haynes says. “I really had to have a team of doctors who were understanding. I found that in every one of my doctors.”

Haynes felt she became Eidson’s little sister after Ann’s parents died and Ann was coping with breast cancer and so many other things at the same time.

“Little did I know God was preparing me for my journey,” Janet says. “Because of that, I was so much at peace. Even though I was a cancer patient, I was already armed. I knew I was going to be OK.”

Eidson says when her friend received her cancer diagnosis, “I fell apart.” though she didn’t let Janet know.

Husband Wally did his best to console Ann. “Before this (Janet’s diagnosis), I was never a crier,” Ann says. “This has just thrown me a curve ball.”

•••

Haynes’ annual mammogram in December 2015 revealed a suspicious mass. “I had a gut reaction mine was not good,” she says.

There were two worrisome spots: one a cluster of calcification; the other, a single calcified spot. The biopsies came back positive for DCIS — ductile carcinoma in situ.

Her breast cancer was in her milk ducts, still in the original location. It was classified as stage zero, but it could become aggressive.

One of Haynes’ options was to have a lumpectomy, along with radiation. But because the cancer was in two different spots, 40 percent of her breast tissue would have to be removed, and that would not allow reconstruction.

The cancer was in her left breast on her heart side, and she also was worried radiation could lead to some extra damage.

A couple of years earlier, Haynes had experienced a scare in her right breast, making her fearful since then of going for mammograms. For her to not have a constant fear of cancer on her other side, Haynes opted for the bilateral operation.

Haynes’ cancer was not in her lymph nodes, nor was it a hormone-fed kind of cancer.

“I am truly the best-case scenario,” Haynes says. “Needless to say. I’m so blessed in so many ways.”

•••

Janet’s road to reconstruction started immediately. While she was still on the operating table, Roy put in expanders to help with the stretching of the skin to be able to accept the implants later.

“You lose so much skin in a mastectomy,” Haynes says, describing the expanders as being like a balloon with a magnet. When they are put in, the expanders are sewn to the rib cage so they won’t move.

Roy later injects saline into tissue to make the skin grow. Eidson and Haynes had to see Roy weekly for saline injections.

“That’s a long process, a very long process,” Haynes says.

Once you expand the amount of skin needed for reconstruction, there’s an eight-week wait before the expanders are removed and permanent implants are put in.

That’s where Haynes is now. But it hasn’t been a straight road to reach this point.

Haynes underwent her bilateral operation March 1, but two weeks into her recovery she developed a 5-inch hematoma, a tumor-like collection of blood in her chest. She headed back for more surgery, leading to four more days in the hospital.

Haynes also had some skin that didn’t survive and had to spend six weeks caring for that, making sure the area didn’t become infected. She dealt with body drains for five weeks.

It was mid May until Haynes could start the expansion process and receive her first injection of saline. Her last injection was late August, starting the waiting period leading up to her reconstruction.

•••

As long as he practices, Roy says, he will consider Eidson and Haynes his patients.

Even if there’s no re-occurrence of cancer, he is still monitoring scar tissue and the breast implants, which probably will need to be replaced in seven to 10 years.

“These patients become my family,” Roy says. “… It’s overwhelming, so it’s my job to not make it overwhelming.”

For both women, their first consultation with Roy came on a Saturday, something he likes to do because it gives him more time to be with the patients.

“His compassion helped to put me at ease,” Haynes says.

Roy became Ann’s chief source of information because she didn’t have that close friend Janet would have in her.

Plus, Roy becomes super-attentive to his patients. He acknowledges he has a crazy fear about infection and takes every safeguard against it.

Eidson says Roy was texting her every day about her drains and how they were doing. How was she feeling? Did she have any kind of fever? What was the output on her drain? Send him a photo of the rash she mentioned.

“How many other doctors are texting their patients?” Eidson asks.

There’s a purpose, Roy says.

“This in the end is to restore this,” he says, pointing to his head. “I give you the opportunity to gain your confidence again.”

•••

Haynes treasures little things these days, such as the “Be Brave” candle Ann gave her. “It truly is the simple things that help you get through,” Haynes says.

They wear matching pink bracelets.. A college suite-mate of Eidson’s had first given her one, then she bought one for Haynes.

During her recovery from surgery, Haynes also received a yellow “sunshine basket” from the Sonshine Girls of Cornerstone Church. It gave her and Eidson an idea of making up all-things-pink baskets for friends they would hear of in the future who are fighting the same breast cancer battle.

So far, they’ve made up and delivered seven of the baskets.

The women stress it was their medical dream team who helped in making the right decisions for them, and presenting the options they could live with.

“We could not have had better results,” Eidson says. “The doctors are wonderful.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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