Submitted by Forrest General Hospital
Robin Douglas shaved her husband’s head on a hot and muggy Thursday evening in April. After her husband, Hollis, finished mowing the lawn the following day, he shaved Robin’s head on the back deck of their Sumrall, Miss. home. It was the day after her second chemotherapy treatment, and her once-thick, naturally curly mane of hair had become short and stringy. She had spent the mornings before that appointment trying to ignore the piles of hair that filled the bathroom trashcan. By that Thursday, it became evident that it was time to say goodbye to her hair.
“I really struggled with losing my hair. By Thursday, it was coming out in handfuls. It meant a lot that my husband was willing to shave his head for me. At the beginning, he had said, ‘We’re going through this together,’ and he meant it. For two or three weeks after losing my hair, it was very emotional to look at myself and see that I was bald,” Robin said. “When you’re going through chemo, though, and the battle of life, you learn that hair is overrated anyway.”
Robin was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer on Thursday, March 16. Robin’s test results had come through that evening, so her physician, John A. Johnson, MD, with Hattiesburg Clinic, made the call to inform Robin of her diagnosis and set up an appointment for 8:15 the next morning to discuss her treatment options. This was a moment Robin had dreaded since her mother’s double mastectomy 23 years earlier.
“It was devastating to find out about my mother’s diagnosis. I was 27 years old and had just gotten married a few months prior. I think I felt the way my children must have felt when they received the news from me. Back then, medicine was not as advanced as it is today,” Robin said.
Her mother’s procedure was a preventative measure. After years of finding lumps and undergoing surgeries to remove them from her breasts, she and her doctor felt the issue was happening too often and decided to be proactive in her care. From that point forward, Robin and her sister, Rhonda, became vigilant about breast care, never missing a monthly self-exam and beginning yearly mammograms at 35. Robin believes this practice saved her life.
“At age 35, we both started doing mammograms. We wanted to be on top of it. Just like in my case, being on top of it and having it found early has saved my life. My cysts were so small that I would not have been able to feel them during a monthly self-exam as early as we had found them. Definitely, mammograms save lives,” said Robin.
Robin had gone for her yearly mammogram, and she was called back for additional views of the abnormalities. The images revealed two small cysts, which Robin’s physician wanted to monitor. Robin returned six months later, on Tuesday, March 14, for more images of the cyst, and at that time, she also had a sonogram and a needle biopsy. Things moved very quickly from that point. The following Thursday, Dr. Johnson called to give her the diagnosis. Robin had surgery at Forrest General Hospital that Monday to remove the cancer and two lymph nodes that had also been affected, and she met with John Hrom, MD, oncologist, later that week to discuss her treatment plan.
Robin explained, “My next step was to meet with my medical oncologist, Dr. John Hrom. He was phenomenal; he just spent so much time with me and my husband detailing what my treatment plans would be. I got my port in on a Wednesday, and I started my chemo the next day. I had to take four chemo treatments and 20 radiation treatments.”
During her treatment, Robin also agreed to participate in the Clinical Trials Program at the Forrest General Cancer Center. Clinical trials are research studies that allow physicians to find new ways to improve treatments and quality of life for patients, like Robin, who have cancer. The Forrest General Cancer Center, in partnership with Hattiesburg Clinic Hematology/Oncology, has an extensive clinical trial program that has grown to be one of the largest in the state of Mississippi. Robin was part of a clinical trial for a medication designed to lessen the negative side effects some patients experience with chemotherapy.
“I was nervous about going into a clinical trial, but I was willing to do anything to make this journey easier. Tammy, the clinical trials coordinator, and Dr. Hrom were phenomenal at explaining the process of it,” Robin said.
Robin has finished her cancer treatment, and her life is slowly starting to get back to the level of activity she is used to enjoying.
“I feel like I have my life back. My immune system is building back up so I don’t have to be as careful about where I go. I just feel free. I feel like I can go back to living my life the way I was before the diagnosis: going to the grocery store, going out to eat. Many of the things that we take for granted in our day-to-day lives.”
Before being diagnosed with cancer, Robin had an active lifestyle with her husband and two children, Bradley and Derek. Bradley, Robin’s older son, played on his high school football team, and her younger son, Derek, played in the band, so Robin attended football games every Friday night for the past eight years. Robin and her family also enjoyed hunting and fishing together. These were moments Robin feared missing out on as she battled breast cancer.
“My youngest, Derek, was a senior in high school, and I thought about the things I would miss of the remainder of his senior year. He graduated high school the Saturday after I took chemo. I worried about being in pictures at his graduation. I chose not to go the wig route, so I would be in a hat. I remember my husband saying, ‘When we look at the pictures, we’re going to realize the journey that we were in at this time in Derek’s life’” Robin recalled.
Her husband’s comforting words along with love and support from her family and friends helped Robin through this difficult time her life. She says there are three important things she would tell a patient to remember as they start their cancer treatment: keep a positive attitude, let people help, and embrace the journey.
Robin said, “I realized you have to embrace the journey. Every step of it, whether it’s chemo, radiation, losing your hair — just embrace it. I have tried to keep a positive attitude, and sometimes it’s hard to do that. On days that it’s difficult, go to your support system. People want to help. They’ve offered to go grocery shopping, bring me supper, and lots of other things. It’s really hard to let people help, but let them do it because they want to.”
The Forrest General Cancer Center offers many programs to help patients through cancer — including support groups and a dedicated patient navigator who helps guide patients and offers support throughout the process. Advanced treatment options like the latest immunotherapy drugs, stereotactic radiosurgery, and the Clinical Trials Program are also available. For more information about the Forrest General Cancer Center, visit forrestgeneral.com.
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