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Day by day, she keeps fighting

"Cancer" became an everyday word for Marge Whaley in November, when doctors discovered the tumor.

By MARY SPICUZZA
Published January 22, 2006


Doctors discovered the 3-centimeter mass during a routine mammogram. They suspected it was malignant.

Marge Whaley, a 13-year-veteran of the Pasco County School Board, began a journal the day her doctor called about the lump and has continued to write since then. Whaley, 65, shared her journal with the Times.

* * *

Day 1 (Nov. 28, 2005)

"I hope this is a short section that ends with "Thank God, what a relief and blessing' but I am not feeling very optimistic tonight.

"Trying hard not to cry in front of Leo (her husband of 42 years). Trying not to plan the memorial service. And none of that working too well.

"Here is the bottom line. I am just not ready to die. It would be a cruel God who would take me from my mother. It would be terrible to leave Leo and the children but I want SO much to watch my precious grandchildren grow up. I have been lucky to be such a part of their lives."

Day 2 (Nov. 29)

(Whaley and her husband went to pick up her films, which were initially mislabeled. Doctors did another mammogram and determined Whaley had a large mass on her left breast.) "I cry a lot. Today when I was ordering Christmas gifts for Delaney and Luke (two of her grandchildren) and gave the expiration date on my Visa (in 2008) I had a fleeting thought, "Gee, I wonder if I will be alive then.' This really sucks."

Day 3 (Nov. 30)

"Have decided on lumpectomy. Will have to do six weeks' radiation but will still have my breast, cure the same. They take a lot of lymph nodes. Am pretty convinced this is not the "death warrant" I first thought it was due to tumor size. Will simply do what I need to do."

Day 4 (Dec. 1)

"Today woke up feeling "normal' again. Of course, it was 4:30 a.m. I was not worrying, just awake. Got up at 6:30. Had good day. Got blood work done. Visited mom. She fell Monday morning, did not tell me."

Day 7 (Dec. 4)

"Day started well, church, Paul, our pastor, knew already about upcoming biopsy. He spoke about Peace and Fears, for loved ones, for health and losing loved ones (I guess me).

This is a difficult thing. It is hard for me to pray for myself."

Day 9 (Dec. 6)

"Tomorrow is biopsy. So many good wishes yesterday and today. "Still finding this a tough thing. Waiting to hear from God, whom I feel has another job for me. This is a journey, God will mark my path and not give me more than I can handle."

Day 10 (Dec. 7)

"Biopsy day. Wasn't nervous (should have been). Surgery delayed more than two hours. He took 90 percent of the tumor, said he was sure it is malignant, due to size, may want to lean toward total mastectomy." (Whaley later decided against this course.)

"My boob, head and ear all hurt. Took Ibuprofen and Tylenol. No relief in one hour so took last Percocet. Pain all gone and able to talk to Dawn (Whaley's stepdaughter) without crying."

Day 11 (Dec. 8)

"Woke up feeling "normal.' A little embarrassed about all the morbid e-mails I sent last night. Had errands to run, did really well and then home and done, so tired.

"Anyway, I just fell to pieces. Tonight the lowest yet I think. Suddenly realized, I do not want to lose my breast! I do NOT want this cancer. I know it is 1) very aggressive 2) large."

Day 13 (Dec. 10)

"I hate this cancer. Don't want to talk about it any more.

"I lie awake at night and try to decide if Leo will have enough money to live here if I die. How joyful is that? No Christmas spirit!"

"I do not believe this is God's will, that He pointed a finger at me and said, "Okay, she will have cancer.' I do believe He promised to give me strength and will hold me close to His heart, that He will carry me when I cannot walk and He will give me clear direction on how to get the best possible medical care. And I have to do my part too, to be vigilant, to follow medical advice, etc. This is hard, really hard."

Day 17 (Dec. 14)

"Busy, laundry. Now e-mail messages make me cry. Everyone says, you are strong. Well, maybe. So the big word CANCER is now in my world and will never be gone. I read somewhere that it is like your life breaking into pieces like a puzzle and the pieces will never fit together the same way again."

Day 20 (Dec. 17)

"Surgery yesterday, went fine. A bit more painful after. He took breast tissue down to the chest wall."

Day 28 (Dec. 25)

"Really put cancer aside for Christmas. Felt great and moving well. But Christmas night, began having aching under left arm. Thought it was the nerve thing but had massive drainage that afternoon. That night lots too, clear through to mattress. Called the doctor and have appt for tomorrow."

Day 34 (Dec. 31)

"A little difficult to celebrate so we are not. Mostly been a good year until the last two months."

Day 50 (Jan. 16)

"Today spent a couple hours with Mary, from the Times. Am sharing (edited) copies of this journal with her. My family not sure I should be doing this. Cancer is not something to be ashamed of, a secret. My hope is that other women or family members can relate to some of the things I am going through. That they will know it is okay to have "down' times, to cry. Just don't stay there. I hope everyone reading this will know how important it is to get annual mammograms after the age of 50."

* * *

Whaley plans to complete her term on the School Board, which ends in 2008.

She will continue visiting schools and attending board meetings.

She will begin chemotherapy as early as mid February and is already making all the necessary arrangements.

"I know I'm going to lose my hair," Whaley said, "I know that I will lose it between the first treatment and the second. I'm going shopping for wigs with my daughters."