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The big “C” word

By Judy Reed

When Cedar Springs native Lorrie Shelton went to get her annual mammogram in 2008, she had no reason to suspect it would be anything but normal; there was not history in her family of the disease, and other mammograms had all been clear. But this time, she got a call back saying they needed to do a biopsy of a suspicious area. She went back for the procedure and found out it was indeed cancer.  And the woman who offered care and counseling to others through her job as Director at the Alpha Family Center now needed comfort of her own.

“I was shook to my core when I heard that word (cancer),” remarked Lorrie. “It had always been the scary word that I used when life got hard; it was part of my pep talk to myself and others when in despair. ‘Well, at least you don’t have cancer,’ I’d say. How simply I’d used that word.”

Lorrie Shelton

Lorrie Shelton is a cancer survivor.

Lorrie was assigned an oncologist and sent home with numbers for support resources. But she didn’t just sit back and let the doctors tell her what to do. She took charge of her own care and began researching everything she could on breast cancer and what treatments were out there. “I learned about words like DCIS, marginal, invasive, lymph nodes, HER2 positive and negative, stereotactic biopsy. It was hard to concentrate on anything else,” she said.

But Lorrie had decisions to make and didn’t like any of the options. The cancer they found was about the size of eight pen tips. And her doctor was recommending a removal of her entire breast. “I felt from what I’d researched that his recommendation was too extreme,” she recalled. “So I got a second opinion and it proved to be the right choice.” She underwent a second lumpectomy and found there was no more cancer.

Lorrie’s cancer was in stage one and also HER2 positive, which means it was an aggressive cancer. But it also meant it was more likely to respond to medication. And the cancer was not in the lymph nodes. “I responded well to the medication and then underwent radiation for about a month,” she said.

How did Lorrie get through the months of fear and uncertainty? During this time Lorrie stayed at Hope Lodge for about three weeks, a place for cancer patients undergoing treatment. She also leaned on family and friends, and went to the healing room at her church. And she journaled—a lot. “I had to sort my feelings out. The entries were between God and me; prayers to God,” she explained. “The bottom line is that you have to put yourself in God’s hands and trust him.”

It’s now been two years since her cancer journey began, and she is cancer free. Each time she has a clear mammogram she rejoices. She has done mammograms every six months, as well as MRIs. And she will continue taking medication for the next three years.

Lorrie urges all women to do self-exams and get their annual mammograms. “Your life is precious; do it for your loved ones. If you are afraid to go, take along a friend, your mom, your daughter, your sister, just go!” she urged. “Have lunch together afterwards.  It can be a girl’s day out instead of a dreaded day.  What better way to insure you will be around for each other in the future?”

Lorrie said the best part about her cancer journey is that she didn’t go through it alone. “My doctor said he was my quarterback, I had the prayer support and love of so many others, and most of all, I came to understand that the big ‘C’ stood for CHRIST, not cancer. He walks intimately along life’s journey with me, helping me make the wisest decisions and giving me the strength I need to face them.”

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