Sedalian Judy Boatman knows all too well the meaning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, as she received both good and bad news about the disease over the last year.
Boatman was diagnosed with breast cancer about nine months ago when she decided to have a breast exam, something she said she hadn’t done in awhile. She heard of another woman who was just diagnosed with cancer and thought she should do her own exam.
“I found a lump,” Boatman said by phone Friday afternoon. “I didn’t know it was cancer, and when I got the diagnosis I was blown away. There’s no history of breast cancer in our family at all.”
Boatman went through chemotherapy, surgery and radiation to shrink and get rid of the tumor. Chemotherapy reduced the size of the tumor and then a surgeon in Columbia removed the remaining tumor.
She received the good news about three weeks ago.
“That was wonderful, that was the news I wanted,” she said. “When I had the surgery I was pretty sure they had gotten it all.”
Boatman has completed her radiation treatments and will soon begin about six months of targeted chemotherapy every three weeks to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
While she made it through treatments and surgery, Boatman didn’t do it alone. She had a support system that included her husband, Bill Boatman, who sat with her through every treatment, and her sister, Cathy Harrison, who works at the Bothwell Regional Health Center Susan O’Brien Fischer Cancer Center. She was also surrounded by a team of medical professionals at Bothwell.
“I have been incredibly blessed by people who took care of me because they were awesome,” Boatman said, choking back tears. “I had trouble eating, I wasn’t hungry (during treatments). One of the staff at the hospital in chemo put me under house arrest because I was weak and (Thursday) I took food up to Bothwell to feed every one up at Bothwell to thank them for everything. She asked if she could eat even though she put me on house arrest,” Boatman added laughing. “They were great, absolutely great. I couldn’t have asked for a staff that was more loving and caring and worried about me.”
Her support group went even beyond Missouri. Boatman works from home, and frequently travels, for a company based in San Diego, California. Once she was diagnosed with cancer, her coworkers said she no longer needed to travel, just to concentrate on getting better.
“I realized how truly lucky I am because I have had people praying coast to coast,” Boatman said. “I work for a company in San Diego so they were praying, I have friends in Texas who were praying, friends in New York praying, and that makes a big difference. I didn’t feel like I had to do it all by myself. My husband has been there, he was there every single treatment I had, he sat there with me. My sister works in the Cancer Center and she was there with me.”
As she begins what is hopefully her final step in battling breast cancer, Boatman is now working to help other women in the same situation by attending a support group.
“I go to every support group meeting there is. I’ve always had a great support group, but not everyone has that. It’s important to me that I don’t miss,” Boatman said. “The last meeting we went to there was a new person there, she got her diagnosis that day. You could see in her eyes the same thing I felt when I got my diagnosis. We sat and talked for a long time; she was scared to death, everyone is. We were able to tell her this is what we did, this is what they often do, they come up with a plan and you’ll make it through, your kids will be fine. Most times people are more concerned about family than themselves. … That’s why the support group is really important to me because I want to be there for other people.”
Now a breast cancer survivor, Boatman encouraged other women to do monthly breast exams and to alert their doctor immediately if anything feels abnormal.
She also offered some advice to any woman who has received a breast cancer diagnosis.
“I would tell her don’t worry about what they’ve heard in the past because a lot of people have horror stories with chemo a long time ago. They have targeted treatment now, they do everything to keep you healthy,” Boatman said. “You may lose your hair — I did, but who cares. The hospital offers a free wig to every woman, which is a wonderful thing, and you’re going to have a support group to help you, phone numbers to call when you have questions. You can call me and I’d be happy to talk with you. If I didn’t go through it, we’ll get you in touch with someone who did.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.