According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer is the second-most common type of cancer in American women of all races and ethnicities, the first being non-melanoma skin cancer.
And BreastCancer.com notes that approximately one in eight American women (just under 12 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer at some point during her lifetime.
Retha Ledford is among that almost-12 percent.
Back in January 2005, Retha discovered, through self-examination, a lump in her left breast; and a subsequent biopsy revealed the presence of an invasive ductal carcinoma that had already begun to spread. Fortunately, the lymph nodes were unaffected.
Retha underwent a lumpectomy that was followed by a protocol of chemo and radiation. She received six doses of chemotherapy, one every three weeks, and 36 radiation treatments.
A determined woman with an extra measure of inner strength, she missed only a couple of days of work with each chemo treatment and avoided altogether some of the other customary side-effects of the standard cancer regimen.
That same fall, Retha received the news every cancer patient hungers to hear—she was disease-free.
However, her health professionals continued to monitor her closely, administering examinations every three months, then eventually every six months, to ensure she remained free of the disease and to initiate adequate measures as soon as possible in the event of a recurrence.
Everything rocked along smoothly for several years—long enough for Retha to be considered a cancer survivor.
It was smooth sailing, that is, until she had her regularly-scheduled mammogram this past January 3. At that time, the radiologist recommended she also undergo an MRI, a test she was to receive every two years anyway. This screening, administered on February 20, uncovered the presence of another ductal carcinoma, the same type of cancer cell she had battled earlier.
This time, however, the cancerous cells were in situ, or still encased inside the duct, whereas in 2005 they had already escaped and had begun to invade the surrounding tissue.
“For women who have had breast cancer, it (the MRI) is really a good tool,” Retha attested. Because of the early detection, the surgeon was able to remove the cancer entirely on March 20, with no further treatment necessary.
She takes a precautionary oral dose of anastrozole every day and at 76, still works full-time as a nurse practitioner in women’s health at the Indian hospital in Lawton. (Told you she was tough.)
The road has been rocky at times, but “I didn’t have to go through all that by myself,” Retha testified.
She had lost her husband James in 2000, but her five children were there with encouragement and moral support throughout her ordeal five years later.
They were not her only source of support, however—she testified that the Lord was with her all the way, providing guidance and courage, and that her friends at church, Marlow’s First Baptist, prayed for her and ministered to her in other ways.
This “made it a much easier journey,” she said.
“I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for every individual,” Retha noted. “He will take every situation we encounter, even breast cancer, and use it to glorify Himself. One of the things I know is that with every situation comes a closer walk and dependence upon God.”
Passing the torchRetha will be presenting her testimony and imparting important information about breast cancer when the Joanna Class at the First Baptist Church hosts their third annual women’s brunch on Saturday, Oct. 6, in the church’s LIFE Center.
The event, an observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and a celebration of women’s health, will feature the theme, “Fearfully, Wonderfully You!”
“Knowing that He has allowed me to be a survivor has instilled in me a passion for sharing with women at an event like the breast cancer awareness brunch,” said Retha.
As keynote speaker, she will introduce statistics concerning breast cancer; discuss risk factors and symptoms; outline screening guidelines; discuss the importance of a support system; and encourage her listeners to reach out to other women and provide tips for doing so.
She will also share her personal experiences and emphasize the fact that cancer can be defeated.
“One of the things that I hope people see is that it is possible to survive, and it is possible to live,” she said.
Retha praised her fellow-members in the Joanna Class.
“They are a wonderful group of women who have taken ownership of this thing, and it’s a lot of work,” she observed. “The Joanna Class gives God all the glory, for without Him, we can do nothing.”
A number of area agencies will be dispensing informational materials in the LIFE Center prior to and during the breakfast. Among these are the American Cancer Society, Chisholm Trail Hospice, the Imaging Center at Duncan Regional Hospital, the DRH Women’s Center, and Cancer Care of Southwest Oklahoma.
Special highlights of the event are free blood-pressure monitoring and free screening for diabetes.
The exhibits will open at 9 a.m., with the brunch to follow at 10. Admission is free, and reservations are not required. Door prizes will be awarded.
For further information regarding the brunch, please call the church office at (580) 658-5413; Grace at (580) 641-1298; or Retha at (580) 512-8847.