After 2 years cancer free, Weaver is on the way to regaining her health
Published 6:06 pm Saturday, October 8, 2016
Evelyn Weaver loves a good boot camp.
She enjoys the sweating, the physical exertion and challenge and has always worked hard to stay fit and strong.
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That may have saved her life.
It has certainly made her road to recovery from a breast cancer diagnosis, double mastectomy and a total of 14 rounds of chemotherapy easier, though that road has been anything but smooth.
“I have always been aware of my body,” the 57-year-old Vicksburg native said. “That’s why I knew something was not right.”
Weaver lost a sister to Hodgkins Lymphoma and since adulthood has been wary of cancer. Since age 40, she has had a mammogram each year in April, and each has been clear of any abnormalities.
She has been diligent with monthly self-exams. When she turned over in bed in July 2014, and felt a lump, she knew to have it checked quickly.
“I was getting ready to go to the hospital with my husband, who was having a procedure, and I turned over and felt it,” she said.
That day, while her husband, Mike Weaver, was having his procedure, Weaver called her family doctor and made an appointment.
“He said it was probably just a swollen lymph node and prescribed me antibiotics,” she said. But just to be sure, he wanted her to see her obstetrician/gynecologist the next day.
“I went to see him and he said he agreed with my family doctor, that is was probably just a lymph node. He said to go ahead and take the antibiotics, but if it didn’t get any better, call me,” Weaver said.
Two weeks later, she called her OB-GYN and told him the lump was growing and that it hurt.
“He sent me straight to my doctor at St. Dominics. They did a sonogram and he said, ‘I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,’ but he said just to be sure he could take it out,” she said.
That was on a Wednesday. She had the lump removed on Friday.
“Before the surgery, he told me he thought it had gotten bigger, but he still didn’t think I had anything to worry about,” Weaver said.
That Friday — July 25, 2014 — she was diagnosed with Stage 2 HER2-positive breast cancer. It’s a type of breast cancer that tends to be more aggressive than others, according to Dr. Timothy J. Moynihan of the Mayo Clinic. However, treatments that target HER2 are very effective, according to Moynihan, and prognosis is “quite good.”
Weaver thinks the estrogen she took during menopause may have caused her HER2 gene to stop working, stop repairing cells, which is its primary job.
“We needed to decide what to do. Because of the type of cancer I had, and it was growing so fast, we knew it could come back quickly,” she said. “So, I opted for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.”
She underwent the procedure on Aug. 13, 2014.
“The first month afterward, I just followed my husband around. I worked, but I was just out of it, really,” Weaver said.
She began five rounds of major chemotherapy on Sept. 26.
“I lost my hair, my fingernails, my toenails. It was horrible,” she said.
After those treatments were completed, her physician team recommended she take another nine rounds of Herceptin, a therapy that specifically targets the HER2 positive gene.
“I was going to St. Dominic’s cancer center every three weeks,” she said.
Between the original surgery, both types of chemotherapy treatments and two additional procedures related to her breast reconstruction — the final of which wasn’t until July 2015 — Weaver said now she’s just beginning the healing process.
“I have been cancer free for two years, but all the healing is just beginning. I told my husband I wish I could have one night that I could go to bed without pain and wake up without pain,” she said.
Weaver is working with an occupational therapist, as well as her oncologist, Dr. Nicole Cleveland, and her plastic surgeon, Dr. Eric Wegener, in an effort to relieve some of her persistent pain.
“So much has changed since I had the diagnosis and surgeries. I used to exercise — do boot camps — regularly. My surgeon — Dr. Patrick Scanlon at St. Dominics — said the reason my surgery took three and a half hours, rather than five or six hours, is because I was fit.
“I cannot do the things I used to do. I try to work up to them, but they can tell I can’t do this or that. So you hurt if you do and you hurt if you don’t,” she said. “Right now in my life, I’ve got to figure out what I can and cannot do. It’s learning everything over again. However, I never quit exercising through the whole cancer treatment.”
Even during her chemotherapy treatments, Weaver would walk inside her house for at least 15 minutes each day, and I still do that.”
And, the Weavers have become active in several walks that support breast cancer and cancer awareness, like the Susan G. Komen Walk for a Cure.
“I’m about to do the Bras Across the River on Nov. 5. We’re trying to get involved in as much as we can,” she said.
Weaver was recently selected as a survivor of the year at this year’s Pink Tie Party sponsored by the Central Mississippi Steel Magnolias chapter of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
Mike Weaver was named a co-survivor of the year, honored for his diligent and caring support of his wife through her battle.
Her journey through her breast cancer ordeal was made bearable because of the support she received from her family, her co-workers at Wells and LaHatte, where she works as a bookkeeper, but particularly from her husband.
“My husband was there through the diagnosis, through every appointment, every surgery, every chemo. He was my cheerleader by my side and that’s how it continues to this day,” Weaver said.
“I was so lucky. I had my doctors. I had my husband. There were days I was so frustrated, I would just sit in my closet and cry. Or I would throw things. I would ask my husband, ‘How are you feeling? Are you talking to anyone?’ And he did. He would talk to the nurses at the 412.”
Mike Weaver works with information technology with the U.S. Army Reserves Unit 412 based in Vicksburg.
“He was able to talk to them, ask them questions,” she said.
“I had a lot of support — my family, my mom, my daughter, my husband and all of the people at work. Even the guys at work, they never yelled at me once,” Weaver joked. “I could make the biggest mistake and they would say, ‘That’s OK, Evelyn!’ Mr. LaHatte worked with me totally. I had to cut my hours to 25 at one time, and he was great. My dining room table at home became my office.
“But my husband is my protector. We will have been married 37 years in December. He watches me very carefully. He watches my emotional state, watches my physical state. He has become more involved in my life, not that he wasn’t before. During my cancer treatments, I couldn’t go out anywhere. I couldn’t go out of town because I didn’t want to mess up anybody’s sleeping arrangements. I never slept. Now, he’s like, ‘We’re getting you out of town.’ In the past two months, this will be our third trip out of town.
“I am lucky because some ladies have told me their husbands just up and left. I can’t even imagine going through this without him.”
Her husband wouldn’t have it any other way.
“When we entered our marriage years ago, it was for better for worse, in sickness and in health. My values were set at a young age and that’s what they are. We are in this together, partners, through the good and the bad,” Mike Weaver said. “That was my role as a husband, being as supportive as I could be for my wife.
“I think I’m more aware of her now — if she’s hurting. I’m more aware of little aches and pains she may have. I’m her protector. I want to make sure she’s OK. Things we used to take for granted before, like a cough or the sniffles, could mean more now than they did before.
“When you hear the news that your wife has been diagnosed with breast cancer, you have to realize this is not a 100-yard dash. Sometimes it’s even longer than a marathon. You have to work it together. You have to be supportive. Being a caregiver can be stressful and very overwhelming, but through your faith and through being surrounded by a good support group yourself, everything will work out,” he said.
The Weavers are the parents of two grown children — John Weaver and Courtney Weaver Warnock — and are grandparents to two granddaughters, and have another granddaughter and grandson on the way.
Weaver said since her diagnosis, she lives one day at a time.
“I never take anything for granted. During chemo, I had to miss my family’s Christmas party because they wouldn’t allow me to be around people. I got sick twice during treatments and was hospitalized once. I’m not going to miss those kinds of things anymore,” she said.
She also knows the cancer could return, and she’s at peace with that because of the support she has surrounding her.
“I went to my oncologist recently and told her I hurt all the time and have a pain under my rib and a cough I can’t get rid of. We did a CAT scan and I’ll know more next week. They told me it could hit my liver or my lung if it came back, but I have a good survival rate,” Weaver said. “I was stage 2, and whenever I have little things that don’t seem right, I’m going to have it checked out. But I’m at peace with whatever happened because I know I’ll have a good support group and my doctors will be there, and I had the best ones. They would hug you and laugh with you and make you feel like family.”
Weaver would also like to spread the word about the importance of self-exams.
“Everybody says get your annual mammogram, and yes, everyone should. But my thing is, when I retire I want to start speaking at different places and telling people that self-exams are more important. I’m living proof of that. I had it and a mammogram did not show it,” she said.