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Sisters Michelle Hecox, left, and Linda Bowman shared their breast cancer stories during a special evening at Stories on Oct. 14.

Even with no detectable family history, Gothenburg sisters Michelle Hecox and Linda Bowman developed breast cancer. Both were detected early, and both are now cancer free. The women shared the stories of their journey’s in a special event held Thursday, Oct. 14 at Stories in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Linda was 56-years-old when she was told she had ductal carcinoma in situ - better known as cancer zero. It was a term she said she had never heard before, so therefore she wasn’t sure just what that meant. All she heard was the word ‘cancer’ and naturally became very frightened.

“Your emotions are just so high at that point. So I asked my doctor what that meant and he explained that it was cancer zero, so I thought that meant I didn’t have to do anything,” Linda explained. “But he said it was just the opposite - that if I didn’t do anything it would become full-blown cancer probably within two years.”

Linda said she had been diligent about having her yearly mammograms all her adult life. This time they found something abnormal in the mammogram she had done at Gothenburg Health, so she went to Kearney to have a 3D mammogram (prior to when Gothenburg Health got their 3D equipment), and was told to pick a surgeon. She met with an oncologist at CHI and a surgeon and they arranged for a lumpectomy.

“The doctors recommended seven weeks of radiation, but told me about this other procedure called mammosite which consists of a little implant they put in the breast that does the same thing as radiation but is much quicker. I thought that was what I wanted to do,” Linda explained. “I researched it and found that you have to have this done within five days of having the lumpectomy because the implant goes in the cavity that the lump was removed out of. I found a hospital in Texas that could get me in, but then found out insurance wouldn’t pay for it. When I asked the hospital how much it would be...it was well over $100,000. I did not have that much in my checking account,” she laughed.

Linda had the radiation and said she was still able to work throughout her treatment. “I did not have any ill effects of the radiation until probably about the last week, and then I got the burns. It is now 16 years later and I am cancer free. I still get a mammogram every year. I had probably 20 different people poking on my breast and no one ever felt a lump - so it was the mammogram that first happened here that caught it.”

Michelle said her cancer experience was much different than Linda’s. “In early December of 2019 I felt something in my breast more towards my armpit and thought it was because I had been sitting kind of funny at work and if I repositioned I would have better results. But that didn’t change anything so I made an appointment to see Natalie, and she felt the lump so she ordered a mammogram,” Michelle began.

After the mammogram an ultrasound was ordered which showed a lump about the size of a pea. Michelle then had a biopsy with Dr. O’Hare. “And I will just sing his praises,” she said.

On Friday, Dec. 19 Michelle got a call from Dr. O’Hare telling her it was malignant. “The hardest thing to do was to tell Brian and the kids,” Michelle said through tears as she relived that conversation. “You know you’re thinking this could be as bad as it possibly could be.”

She consulted with Dr. O’Hare on what the next step should be - a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. It was decided to just have the lumpectomy and on Jan. 2, 2020, she had that procedure done in Kearney. “They removed three lymph nodes that were not cancerous, so I was very fortunate. They felt like they got all the cancer in the lumpectomy, so that was good,” she said.

Michelle said following the surgery Dr. O’Hare was thinking her cancer was likely Stage 1 and would require nothing more than radiation. “I thought well shoot, Linda did radiation, so I can do that! But when I met with the doctor in North Platte she told me that the aggressive factor on the type of cancer that I have is a 26, and that anything 25 or above you have to have chemotherapy and radiation. I thought sure, the one time I over-achieve!”

She began her chemo treatments on Feb. 25, 2020. In the middle of her chemo treatment she fell and broke her foot and because of the chemo she wasn’t able to have surgery, which extended the healing process of her foot. She completed the chemo treatment in June and began radiation on July 7.

“I’ve had some exams since then and I am still cancer free, and I am grateful for that. I did my mammograms on a regular basis. It’s not fun but you just do it,” Michelle said. “We are very fortunate that we have had this result in our family.”

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@syndicatepub.com or call 308.537.9498