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Looking for strength

School Board member Marge Whaley's days leading up to chemotherapy prove to be an emotionally and physically draining roller coaster.

By MARY SPICUZZA
Published March 26, 2006


LAND O'LAKES - Until she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Marge Whaley was always a private person.

Whaley, 65, began a journal the day her doctor called about the lump. And the 13-year veteran of the Pasco County School Board agreed to share it with th e Times in an effort to raise awareness about the disease - which affects one out of eight American women.

In her first installment of journal entries, published in late January, Whaley struggled to come to terms with her diagnosis as she had a biopsy and underwent a lumpectomy.

In this, the second segment of excerpts from her "breast cancer diary," she faces chemotherapy.

Wednesday, Jan. 18

My pastor came by today; I got pretty teary a few times and still am. Such sweet caring cards today. A friend, long ago, told me that when she let herself be really sad, she simply unlocked a part of her heart and let all the hurts out and just mourned them all. Then, she put them away and went on to something else. So maybe it's time to do that today. Move on!

Also, a friend had sent by all her hats, so I slicked my hair back and tried them on. I think I might be able to go to Publix with just a hat when I have no hair.

Thursday, Jan. 19

Today heeded a friend's advice and went to the mall for black pants and hose. I REALLY needed those items, and the friend said, shop now while you have the energy. Tried reading this afternoon and found myself sobbing over a death in the beginning of the book! Just could not stop. Had to put it down and go do deskwork for a while. Hope that is not a recurring event; I read a lot!

Friday, Jan. 20

Every day I feel a little stronger. I don't think I gave credit to what having three surgeries (biopsy, lumpectomy, having a drain inserted), Christmas, a horrible health diagnosis etc. in two months can do to you physically. I seem to be healing well. Went to the store today and then attacked my desk. Made lots of school board calls and have my "to do" piles in order. Lots coming up with trying to open all these schools, boundary changes, staff. Also the domino effect, got to fill all the vacancies. Hope there will be good people.

Sunday, Jan. 22

THE ARTICLE was in the paper today. Leo (Whaley's husband of 42 years) woke me up holding it in front of him. The picture of just my face was HUGE and on the front page of the Pasco section. My neighbor read it and liked it; so did Candi (my daughter). Delaney (my granddaughter) read it with very little comment except she was happy they spelled her name right. Dawn (my daughter) read it and was a little sad, but poor Courtney (my granddaughter, 16) read it, and burst into tears. So I sat there and held her while we both cried and basically promised not to die.

Tuesday, Jan. 24

Went to support group at Moffitt today. After general stuff about how everyone was doing, I said so many people say, "You are a strong woman, you have a positive attitude, you will be fine." Well, I am not always strong, and it's hard to just sit down and cry without feeling you are letting someone down! This promoted huge discussion, all had had that kind of experience. At home talked about this with my husband (he hates to see me cry). Tons of phone messages, cards and general support from friends and even people I do not know. Very encouraging.

Wednesday, Feb. 1

Good day, lots of time on the phone, both business and getting registered for my fourt h surgery in less than two months ! (At this point, Marge has had a biopsy, underwent a lumpectomy, and needed a drain inserted. Here, she prepares for a mediport for the chemotherapy). Picked up my 16-year-old granddaughter at school and went to lunch and then for pedicures. So much fun! If I get bored with all the waiting tomorrow, will just admire my toes.

Thursday, Feb. 2

Got my port today. Carefully marked where bra straps went, but they washed off in the prepping. But it is in the right place anyway.

Friday, Feb. 3

A very restless night. More pain than expected for sure. Found out all about my course of chemotherapy. This will be 60 weeks plus of treatment I think. It is overwhelming, to be sure. I can still think positively about it but know it is going to be a long haul. I did a lot of reading tonight about survivor vs. victim. I hope to never be a victim of this disease.

Monday, Feb. 6

This darned area where they put the port in seems to be getting worse instead of better, which has me a bit worried. The area around the port site is red, but hopefully just from the bandage. Horrible nights. Last night the worst, could not sleep anywhere but on my back most of the night.

Tuesday, Feb. 14

I have not written because I have been way too ill to write. The port site was infected (staph) and the surgeon removed it in his office last Wed. I am on two strong oral antibiotics and ran a very high fever for several days. Could not eat much at all, mostly sat in my recliner and waited to feel better. Every day I was evaluated to see if this would work or if I would have to be hospitalized.

Frustrated because this is delaying getting started on chemo. Also getting a lot of opinions from dear friends and family about what I should do (or not do). But in the end, Leo and I will make the decisions with much prayer and information and hope it is the best one.

Sunday, Feb. 19

Someone recommended the book The Breast Cancer Husband by Marc Silver. I ordered it from the library. In the meantime a dear friend of my husband's sent him another book for men. He read that one and is now halfway through this one. I am so proud of him!

We had such a lovely day, looked at model homes, went to the store and just did regular stuff. It has been awhile since we have spoken so little about cancer. A good break.

Saturday, Feb. 25

I did walk today, could not make it around the circle but maybe got a half-mile in. Will keep working on it for the next two weeks, got to build up by strength.

Friday, March 3

Saw my oncologist yesterday. All good news. He was very happy with the incision healing and said as far as he was concerned, I was "good to go" for chemo. The "blessing" of all this delay is that had my chemo started on time I would have been very anxious about side effects etc. Now I am only anxious to get going!

Sunday, March 5

I went to a meeting at Moffitt this morning with a friend who is also a survivor of 21/2 years. It caught my eye because the topic was Best Year Yet. It was about setting goals, even tiny ones if you are where I am and do not yet know how things will go with chemo.

The goals I set so far are:

Focus on and be grateful for at least one good thing that happened each day.

Accomplish one thing each day, even if it is a tiny task like cleaning up the kitchen.

Walk at least five times a week, even if only to the end of our street.

Find a cancer partner who is going through chemo also.

Use this experience to help others and be more tolerant with myself and accept help from others.

Enjoy life to the fullest.

Monday, March 6

I saw the surgeon today; he was very happy with my wound and will put in a new port next Monday. I am very excited to have a surgery date and also will start my chemo on Wed, March 15.

Friday, March 10

Talked to an old friend yesterday, I had sent her the first Times article. I was saying how different I am now, and at such a different place. She asked if I thought I would be back where I was sometime during the treatment. Yes, probably, there will be days I will be angry and sick of being sick and tired of the whole mess. But, hopefully, I won't stay there long.

Sunday, March 12

Well, tomorrow begins a busy week. Church this a.m., lots of people praying for me. I am a tiny bit nervous about my port, considering last time. But ready to "get on with it!"

Wednesday, March 15

Surgery went well on Monday.

Wig day was much more fun than I thought it would be. I am still a little hung up on the losing hair thing. I found some really attractive wigs and will go back next week to try them on in "my" color. I almost was tempted by a blond one but now think maybe that would be a bit much! Not totally ruling it out though.

The hardest thing about this is knowing how much worry I am causing my family; that just breaks my heart.

Thursday, March 16

A wonderful surprise. Had some nausea and ate a very light pasta meal which seemed to relieve it. Again, at about 8, ate a piece of toast and was in bed by 10 p.m. After hearing many stories about people who were so wired from the steroids, I was relieved to have a great, restful night.

I know this is the "honeymoon" but will take it when I get it.

Saturday, March 18

Yep, was the honeymoon! Yesterday got up feeling great but faded fast and postponed the grocery until the afternoon and happy I had a short list!

Wednesday, March 22

Again, a terrible night, trouble going to sleep, trouble with my shoulder, which the surgeon says is absolutely not related to surgery. And did blood work today, picked out wig. Then to mom's, who had very little good to say about the wig, sigh, to drugstore and then to surgeon.

Port doing well and that is a relief. By the time we got home I was exhausted!! Better now after my nap. Also decided to put another recliner in bedroom so I can stop chasing Leo out of the family room when I nap.

--Mary Spicuzza covers education in Pasco County. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6241 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6241. Her e-mail address is mspicuzza@sptimes.com