Catherine Neadow | A Breast Cancer Survivor's Story
I received a request from one of my fellow Florida Blue employees to write a breast cancer survivor series during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to bring awareness to the disease and celebrate employees that are survivors. I jumped at the chance and asked a few brave women to share their stories. Keep an eye out for their profiles in courage as they are shared throughout the rest of the month. Here’s Catherine’s story: When Catherine Neadow, technical lead, Group Membership & Billing, found a lump under her armpit, she didn’t think too much about it. She thought it was probably a cyst or a hair follicle that had gotten infected. Neadow couldn’t have been more wrong. Her doctor found the lump suspicious and ordered a biopsy, after which she was told, while still in her medical gown and lying on the operating table, that she had breast cancer. The doctor called her husband and 16-year-old daughter in the room to share the details, but the ensuing conversation was a blur to Neadow. “I remember my husband crying, but I was like a deer in the headlights, too stunned to comprehend anything else,” she recalled. “I remember thinking I had to comfort him and my daughter, but I was numb.” She heard words like ‘tumor board’, ‘oncologist’, ‘chemotherapy’ and ‘radiation’ but nothing made sense. She wasn’t even fully clothed yet - how could she wrap her mind around cancer? The one thing she will always remember about that day is the date: June 5, 2009. At the time, she thought her cancer diagnosis would be the worst news she could get, but a couple of weeks later she received a phone call, while she was at work, from the chemotherapy doctor. He revealed she had, in fact, three tumors and she was at stage IIIB – meaning the cancer had metastasized to her lymph nodes. She called her surgeon who apologized for her receiving the news like she did. The chemotherapy office was simply faster to the phone than her surgeon was, and assumed she already knew about the test results. She was once again devastated, but this time, she was at work. She remembers running to the ladies’ room and her co-workers following right behind. They had an impromptu prayer meeting in the accessible stall and she felt better, saying that the support she got from her peers was exactly what she needed at the time. She chuckled and said the only reason her boss wasn’t in there too, was because he was a man and couldn’t go into the ladies’ room. But he was outside in the hall, waiting to see how she was. She gathered up her senses and did the only thing she could at the time; she went back to her desk to work. “It was the only thing I could do to take my mind off of it,” she recalled. “It kept me busy and focused and prevented me from panicking.” So, for the next couple of weeks, she worked and mentally prepared for a grueling treatment plan. Neadow endured sixteen weeks of chemo, then surgery to remove the lumps and 13 additional lymph nodes, then three months of radiation. Like most people, the chemo made her sick and caused debilitating migraines that left her hospitalized. She felt helpless. When her hair started to fall out, she decided it was time for her to take control and she shaved her head. “Making that decision was empowering for me and made the situation less emotional,” she said. She’s so proud of that moment that she opted to use the photo she took after shaving off her hair for this article. It was a turning point for her and represents her strength.
Neadow has been cancer free for four years, and is a five-year survivor of breast cancer. She still has residual effects from the surgery such as lymphedema, which causes swelling in her arm. Lymphedema is a common side effect for those that have had lymph node removal and she has to wear a compression sleeve which limits the full use of her arm. Still, she doesn’t mind it too much, since it’s another reminder of her survival. That positive outlook is a huge part of who Neadow is, and it’s only increased since her diagnosis five years ago. “I’ve always been positive, but this experience has made me even more optimistic,” she said. “I don’t have any right to feel bad about my life, and I know others have even bigger trials. I’ve found that I can be a mentor to friends and co-workers that are struggling with a cancer diagnosis, and I always tell them – the most important thing is to have a great attitude.” Are you a breast cancer survivor? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below.
Filed under: Mind/Body/Soul