For Connelly, breast cancer a lifelong journey

Published 8:00 pm Saturday, October 21, 2017

In 1988, Beverly Connelly began a journey she continues through this day. It began when she was she was diagnosed at age 33 with breast cancer.

“During that time in my life, my focus was on my family and raising two small children,” she said. “I had never heard of breast cancer. You went for regular tests and routine physicals, but in that realm of that time frame, it was not spoken.

“It was more or less an older lady’s disease,” Connelly said. “People of an old age got it. You never heard of younger women getting it. They may have, but I didn’t (know). They didn’t really know the side effects of the drugs then.”

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However, when she went to Jackson to begin her treatment plan, she said, “I found out there were in my plan five women, and two of them actually were younger than me, so it was becoming prevalent in 1988.”

Her disease was treated with surgery and chemotherapy and she went into remission, a term she doesn’t like to use.

“I don’t go with that term, remission. I just continued with my health care, and nothing was found, and continuation lasted 29 years (until she was again diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014); just routine medical care.”

And she was not the only one in her family fighting breast cancer. Several years after her first battle with the disease, Connelly’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through the same process.

Having gone through the disease, she said, helped her and her mother deal with it.

“She kind of in a way knew what to expect. She went through the same chemo and surgery; the whole nine yards.” In 2005, she said, her mother’s cancer returned, this time in the liver.

“They said it was originally the breast cancer that had just metastasized,” Connelly said. “She lost her battle and passed away in January 2006.”

In 2014, her aunt was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, and died a year later.

Connelly’s second battle with breast cancer in 2014 began when it was found during a routine mammogram.

“Fortunately, it was stage 1,” she said. “I opted for additional surgery and reconstruction, and I am currently being treated with medication with two more years to go in my five-year regimen.

There are similarities and differences in her journeys, she said.

“Every cancer is different; every diagnosis is different. The second time was different, because it was in the early stages.”

One difference, she said, was by 2014 advancements had been made in breast cancer research and treatment, including new scans, new medications, new treatment plans and a greater awareness of the disease by the public.

“I could see the research that has been done from 1988 to now, just by talking to my doctors and my oncologist. The second time was handled better,” Connelly said.

The similarities with the first and the second time, she said, is that no matter what the diagnosis, “You have to go through the same thing. You still have to have the blood work, you still have to do the scan, still have to have the X-rays, still have to go to the doctor continuously for checkups.

That didn’t change.”

“Your emotions, both physical and mental, are like a roller coaster; you have highs and you have lows. You have the same emotions, which are anxiety and fear, and the physical aspect — the pain, and the general physical feelings.”

And there is always the thought that the disease could return.

She was able to cope with the disease, she said, because of the support she received during the disease.

“In the beginning, I had my family, and basically they didn’t understand what was going on, but they were there to support me.

“Last time, I had an amazing group of strong women who were supporting me and there was family and co-workers and lots of amazing friends.”

Connelly also had the assistance of a breast health navigator, who served as the liaison between her and her doctor.

“She basically answered all my questions,” Connelly said. “When I was unable to ask the doctor questions, I called her and she had access to information; she even got the access with medications like the side effects of this medication. She would even help me with insurance, just that type of position.”

During her second battle with the disease, Connelly said, she had genetic testing to determine if she had the genes for the disease.

“I have a daughter, I have granddaughters; I have a sister. I have niece; I did that for them.

“Luckily it came back normal. There’s your research, there’s your difference. It’s what it’s doing today, and I think that’s amazing.

“I just live one day at a time. I’m in my third year of a five-year regimen of my medication. After that, it will continue to be checkups, and I will see my regular doctor the rest of my life. I will have occasional scans, (but) not to extent of what I had during the beginning of my treatment.”

Connelly’s experience has helped her develop ways to deal with breast cancer, and she has some advice for people having to deal with the disease:

• Have faith and a positive attitude.

“Anybody going through any disease, it’s the power of positive thinking. My thing was, I like to stay busy.”

Connelly is the business manager for Vicksburg Catholic Schools. She said her job allowed her to work at home during her second bout with breast cancer.

“I’d be at home and doing my work at home, and the boss would be calling me and asking me questions about budgets. It helped take my mind away from the disease. My work at home helped me a lot, and the communication with the people at the school and family members coming and going. It was different; I guess a different era in my journey.”

• Know your body.

“You’re in for a fight. I think the key nowadays is faith and education. Educate yourself, and by all means ask questions. They are extremely important.

“You have to educate yourself. That basically was what got me through this last time. (The first time) I didn’t know what to ask, I didn’t know diagnosis, prognosis, I didn’t know what a chemport was — what Adriamycin was. I didn’t know any of those things.”

• Have a support group.

“That’s the thing; the more you have to support you and the more knowledge that you know about this disease, the better off you are.”

She stays in touch with a friend who went through breast cancer the same time she did, adding,  “There’s so many who have this now, like so many other cancers, I pray that they do find an actual cure. It would be nice.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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