Breast cancer survivor encourages others

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Missi Blankenship Miller of Leachville is sharing her personal story in hopes it might help others who are fighting breast cancer. She wants to encourage women to never put off mammograms. It was during a routine mammogram she discovered she had breast cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 1 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma in January of 2011 at the age of 43.

Missi is married to Gordon Miller and they have three children, Jordon, who is teaching first grade at Kennett; Caleb, a senior at Arkansas State University studying ag business; and Connor, a junior at Buffalo Island Central High School.

Missi was joined by her daughter, Jordon, in a cancer walk they did together in Little Rock.

Missi talked about the importance of a good support group. She had support from her husband, her children, her parents, her in-laws, her sister and her many friends who have been there from day one. Most of all she said she had support from her Lord.

"I think the support is 90 percent of any recovery," Missi said. "In addition to support, keeping a good attitude is helpful. It was not pleasant but I had to keep telling myself I would get through it."

Missi's grandmother passed away with breast cancer which led her to have the genetic testing done in 2011. The tests came back negative. Her breast cancer is not inherited.

Life can change overnight. Missi and her husband returned from a trip to the Virgin Islands on a Friday and she went for a routine mammogram on Monday. She felt fine, had no symptoms and she was shocked to get the results.

"I am an emotional person," Missi said. "My husband and I cried when we got the news. I am a Christian and on the trip home from Memphis, I turned it over to the Lord. The Bible talks about a peace that surpasses all understanding and I truly believe that is what the Lord gave me. I felt it come over me. I was able to tell my children and my parents I had breast cancer without crying."

Their daughter Jordon was a junior in college when Missi was diagnosed. Jordon called her dad and begged him to let her come home and take a semester off so she could be there to help.

"At first I said no," Missi said. "I was afraid she would not go back to college. We decided we had to let her follow her heart and do what she felt she needed to do. She was so much help to all of us."

Jordon drove her mom for treatments, helped around the house, made sure her youngest brother, Connor, (who was too young to drive at that time) made it to his activities, and whatever else she could do to help. She returned to college and finished her degree and is now teaching.

Missi had a partial mastectomy. During the surgery, the doctors discovered a smaller tumor behind the one they knew was there.

"When I had surgery, there was a pathologist in surgery with the surgeon," she said. "The pathologist would check the tissue around the tumor until it showed clear margins."

Following the surgery Missi underwent four chemotherapy treatments, one every three weeks, followed by 35 radiation treatments, Monday through Friday for seven weeks.

Missi said the doctors told her she would lose her hair about 14 days after her first treatment. She thought she was ready for it. She had picked out a wig and had it styled.

After Missi's first treatment, she got sick with flu symptoms and a sinus infection. She was so sick she was taken to the emergency room. She was admitted into the hospital with a blood count of zero. During her three day stay in the hospital, she hit day 14 following her treatment. She woke up with hair in her mouth and discovered much of her hair had come out during the night.

She had her husband take her to her hairdresser before she even went home from the hospital. She called her sister and met her at the beauty shop with her wig.

"My hairdresser was so good," Missi said. "She turned me away from the mirror while she was shaving my head and had my wig on before turning me around. I didn't see myself bald until later that night when I took it off to go to bed. I looked in the mirror and I did cry. I had me a pity party and then I got over it. "Throughout our lives we fix our hair every day and we really do feel better when we think our hair looks good. Losing your hair is like a grieving process. It is part of our femininity. Even though we know it will grow back, it is a shock."

Whatever makes individuals comfortable is what Missy suggests when it comes to wearing wigs, hats, scarves or just going without anything.

"Whatever makes you feel better or comfortable - just do it," she said.

Missi taught school for several years. Six years ago she and Gordon had made the decision she would quit teaching and help on the farm. She enjoyed teaching school and she has enjoyed helping on the family farm.

Now she is taking the cancer pill. She will take the pill for five years. She has checkups regularly and can't say enough about her family, especially her husband. They recently celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary.

"My husband has been awesome," she said. "When I am down, he picks me up. He has made me feel good about myself throughout this ordeal."

Her advice to anyone going through cancer is don't stop living.

Missi's cancer was not inherited but doctors suggest daughters of mothers who have breast cancer start having mammograms 10 years before the mother's age of developing breast cancer. For instance, if the mother is diagnosed at 40, the daughter should start mammograms at the age of 30.

Again, Missi urges mammograms for early detection.

"I know in this day and age everyone is busy but I encourage women to make the time to get mammograms," she said. "Early detection can be a lifesaver."

Missi has taken part in the huge cancer walk in Little Rock and enjoyed being there with so many survivors and supporters. She said the "sisters" have a kindred spirit. She is part of a survivor's group that meets in Paragould once a month.

"Bonds are formed and we encourage each other," Missi said.

Missi said cancer is not easy, treatments are not easy.

"At first there is dread and fear," she said. "I was shaking inside before my first treatment. It is not pleasant, but I had to tell myself I could do it."

Again, she stressed the importance of living every day to its fullest.

"I am blessed," she said.

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