By CLINT FOSTER
Life has a funny way of not going according to plan, not a human plan anyway. Bad things happen and we have to play the hands we are dealt, as the old saying goes. But if we trust in God, He can bring us through any trial and, like gold tested in fire, we can be molded and emerge far better than before.
That’s exactly what Carolyn Hickey has discovered throughout her seven month battle with breast cancer.
“It’s been a journey,” she said. “You don’t realize what cancer’s all about until you have it. There’s so much there. You have to do a lot of thinking, praying and reading. I couldn’t have made it without my friends, my family and the Lord. You have to have that support.”
Hickey, 71, had a mastectomy on her left breast after being diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in April. Her specific type of cancer has caused her to undergo chemotherapy after the surgery, a process she will continue through November. In all, she said her cancer treatment is expected to last a full year.
Despite her reputation as a highly sociable person – Hickey’s family has owned and operated the North Oak Dairy Queen for 34 years – she said she was speechless when she first heard her diagnosis.
“You’re numb,” she said of the moment she heard the news. “I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t think. It absolutely shocks you so bad. You’re depressed. You do a lot of crying. But then you’ve got to keep yourself up, too, and I’ve tried real hard to keep going.”
As anyone might expect, cancer treatment was challenging for Hickey, to say the least. Rounds of chemo and surgery can take their toll on a body. But it was the little things that Hickey said she struggled with most.
“One of the things that upset me was losing my hair,” she said. “I live out on the Brazos River and I would stand outside and brush my hair and it would just blow away. That’s devastating to a woman. It bothered me a lot. There’s times I laid in that bed so sick that I didn’t know if I wanted to make it. But you say, ‘No, I can do this.’ And that’s what you do.”
As hard as things were, Hickey clung to her faith and the love and support of her family and friends to conquer the disease. She said one of her biggest assets was an album she assembled full of cards that people sent her. Whenever she felt down, she would flip through the album and find encouragement from the many verses, prayers and kind words. That helped keep things in perspective.
“That would bring me up that day and I would say, ‘What am I fussing about? I need to get up and get after it,’” she said. “First of all, we’re lucky enough that they have something to give you. What if they didn’t?
The thing I thought about while I was in that chair, getting chemo, is how there are so many people that don’t have any money, no insurance and they have cancer and I’m blessed that I can do that.”
One friend that Hickey leaned heavily on during her treatment was Mattie Maxwell, a fellow breast cancer survivor who has also undergone a mastectomy and chemo. The two women found out that they shared a common experience when they saw each other during at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Weatherford. They also discovered they had the same surgeon – Jane Bussey – at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth.
Maxwell invited Hickey to her local breast cancer support group, Bosom Buddies. There Hickey was instantly accepted into what Maxwell called a “big family” of women going through the same trials.
“We’re just here for each other,” Maxwell said of Bosom Buddies. “We laugh, we cry and we help each other get through this journey. You’ve just got to be strong. You’ve got to be positive about everything. And you have to pray. The support you get from friends and family helps a lot, as well. You can’t let it get you down. We have our moments where we still ask, ‘Why did this happen?’ But you have to have faith.”
Truth is, not many people would see some positive aspects of having cancer. But Hickey said that in some ways, the disease has, indeed, blessed her.
“I’ve thought differently,” she said. “When you’re laying in the bed, so sick, all this stuff runs through your mind. The things I used to worry about don’t bother me anymore. You get a different outlook on life. You just do a lot of thinking and you want to change your life a little bit. I’ve decided when I get through with this, there’s a bucket list of things I want to do now. My mind’s made up.”
Among Hickey’s bucket list items are a cruise, shopping trips with friends and a trip with her husband to her dream location: Italy. She said she was very blessed with good health her whole life; but, after overcoming cancer and considering her age, she wants to make time for these trips that she never felt like she could go on before.
To anyone who has to struggle with cancer in the future, Hickey had these words of wisdom:
“Believe in the Lord, that’s No. 1,” she said. “Do what doctors tell you to do. You’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to listen to them and go for it. But you’ve got to believe in the Lord and He will pull you through it.”