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Story of a Cancer Fighter

Publication: Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, TX

Your cancer journey. It's an unexpected and unwanted trip that you can't prepare for. But one that you must endure, like it or not. This trip is littered with questions and confusion, fear and anxiety. But it's more bearable and successful when you're supported by a loving family, good friends, as well as a dedicated oncology team of physicians, nurses, radiologists, schedulers, and others to help you navigate your own personal "map."

Editor's Note: On August 3, Becky noted her first post on her Facebook [family] page, where she has logged several entries, since her cancer diagnosis on July 25. She wrote, "I am embarking upon an odyssey, a long series of wanderings or adventures, especially when filled with notable experiences. I didn't seek out this journey, but it's mine now. I may have cancer, but it doesn't have me."

The next day, Becky was assigned a "navigator" to lead her through the maze of oncology treatments, doctor's appointments, medications and simply being "there" to offer comfort and support. "I spoke with my navigator about the healing of my spirit and mind, and she agreed with me that the body will follow," shared Becky. "She reminded me of the parable of the fig tree from (book of) Mark (in the bible); Her family claimed this scripture when her sister was going through breast cancer treatment."

By mid August, Becky received good news. "My surgeon called on the 17th during a hectic day at school, and was happy to report that there was no cancer anywhere else in my body," she exclaimed. "This growth was not in breast tissue; it seemed to have taken over a lymph node and stayed there. My doctor told me this is the best possible diagnosis for me."

Here's her full story.

School Teacher's 'Expedition' Leads to Good News and Great Options

Becky Bevill is a middle school teacher at High Point Academy, a K-10 charter school in White Settlement, where she teaches 6th and 7th grade language arts. As a "nearly lifelong" Fort Worth resident, she's a mother of two adult children who are both actively building their chosen careers in the Carolinas. Becky is also the daughter of parents who just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on the same day her dad turned 80. She's a dedicated athlete who runs about three miles, four days a week. Last summer, Becky became a "yogi" at Temple Road Yoga which would soon become her "holy place" because just a few weeks later, she would also become a cancer patient.

"Things happen for a reason," said Becky who soon realized how much she would treasure her "yin" classes that seemed to come at just the right time. "I loved the spirit of the place, the feeling of peace and calm, as well as the community and instructors."

The calendar turned to July 25th, a day which would change the course of her life.

"Then I got my diagnosis, and the fear crept in," said Becky. "During those unsure weeks waiting for answers, yin class was my 'sanctuary' where my body learned how to relax in order to prepare for the hard work of healing that lay ahead."

Unfamiliar Territory: Suspecting Something Different

After visiting her son and daughter for Christmas in the Carolinas, she felt a lump under her left arm.

"A rash appeared which began to itch, but I thought it was just an allergic reaction to a new antiperspirant," said Becky. "So I went back to my regular deodorant thinking it would go away."

But it grew bigger instead.

"I told myself, it's only a knot under my arm," she said. "It can wait. Besides, I'm healthy. I'm active. I've never been sick, not one surgery, in my entire life."

By April, however, Becky decided to seek medical attention and went to an urgent care clinic in Fort Worth.

"I thought it was a cyst because my father had a cyst that only required minor treatment," she said. "But they (clinic) thought it needed another look."

When June came, however, Becky knew there was still work to do: "summer school, finish the yearbook, pack up her classroom, etc."

"The list went on. I was too busy to go to the doctor," she said. "I thought it was just a checkup anyway."

As the school year slowed to its last day, Becky made plans to spend five days on the beach in Corpus Christi at Padre Island National Seashore with only "sand, waves, shore birds, and baby sea turtles for company."

"I booked the condo for the last week in July, and made plans for a week full of nothing to do," she said.

When to Change Directions

Encouraged by a friend, Becky went to her friend's physician assistant (PA) who recommended a mammogram.

"The PA was skeptical of the lump in my armpit, even when I explained it as a reaction to a strong antiperspirant," she said. "She ordered a biopsy, just to be sure."

After her biopsy, Becky headed for the beach even with a "giant bandage" under her arm.

"I had strict warnings from a wonderful nurse named Vanessa not to get it wet for three days, and told me if she called, it would indicate good news," she said. "Unfortunately, the voice on the message wasn't Vanessa."

After calling Vanessa, Becky learned she had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC).

"About 80% of breast cancer is this type," Becky explained.

The teacher in Becky quickly transformed into a student who listened carefully while taking notes as Vanessa gave her instructions.

"I started making phone calls immediately," said Becky. "Action is my way of coping; it's my survival mode. I notified my family, selected my medical team, and made appointments for the next week. I did all that I could on the phone, 400 miles from home, scared out of my mind."

Taking one action step after another in the right direction. Meanwhile, Becky found "solace in the surf sounds, the ceaseless shoosh of the wind and waves, and praying."

"I prayed for miles along the (coastal) edge of Texas that entire week, and came home ready to begin my expedition," she said.

'A Trip with a Purpose'

"A friend with a similar diagnosis called it her 'year-long project,' while others have used 'journey' to describe their experience," explained Becky. "But an expedition is a trip with a purpose, generally a military one."

Ms. Bevill explained, "the Latin prefix 'ex-' means 'out of', the root 'ped-' translates to 'foot', so literally "'taking one's feet out of' a place."  The teacher-turned-soldier said she liked the battle connotation of the word expedition because it's a journey OUT.

"I need to see the end from where I'm standing, and to get moving toward that goal," Becky added.

Rest Stops and Road Signs

So the soldier in Becky marched forward and scheduled a breast magnetic resonance imaging or "MRI".

"The MRI was clear and the doctor was amazed," shared Becky. "However, the doctor still needed to know where the cancer originated so she ordered a PET scan, which is a fancy picture of my whole body."

By mid August, Becky received good news.

"My surgeon called on the 17th during a hectic day at school, and was happy to report that there was no cancer anywhere else in my body," she exclaimed. "This growth was not in breast tissue; it seemed to have taken over a lymph node and stayed there. My doctor told me this is the best possible diagnosis for me."

Afterward, my surgeon recommended Chi Pham, MD, hematology and oncology specialist, Texas Oncology–Fort Worth 12th Avenue, as Becky's oncologist.

Still more questions than answers.

"The hard part for my children is the distance and the not knowing," shared Becky who posted a specific prayer request on her Facebook page for her family to 'Please keep my parents and kids there, too. It's not easy for them, and they are giving me all they have every day.'

Becky's 25- year-old daughter Cami is currently serving a medical internship to become a PA, in which her clinical mindset has made conversations about cancer care easier.

"I often say that my daughter is the analytical part of me, and my son is my heart," she shared.

A Map for the Expedition

On August 21, Becky met with her oncologist, Dr. Chi Pham, for the first time.

"She was very thorough explaining my treatment plan," said Becky, who said her regime would include 12 weekly doses of Taxol with Carboplatin added every 3rd week; off two weeks, then four bi-weekly doses of Adriamycin and Cytoxin (AC); off three weeks, then modified radical mastectomy of her left breast and lymph nodes; off three weeks, and daily radiation for a few weeks.

"Then we talk about reconstruction," she added.

"Dr. Pham said that the chemo should hopefully make the tumor completely disappear," she shared. "But I will also have the surgery to remove some lymph nodes and tissue, as well as the radiation for about three weeks in February or March. It will all be gone after my surgery in January."

And that is when Becky said she will.... "walk OUT of my expedition cancer-free."

First Chemo 'In the Books'

On August 27, Becky had her first round of chemotherapy as posted on her Facebook:

"My first chemo is in the books. It took 5 hours, but I had no adverse or allergic reaction, and the anti-nausea meds have done their job, so I have continued my routine: Friday morning, I ran 3.6 miles before school, worked all morning cleaning up the (school) building to get ready for the 850 students who will be showing up Monday, had my echocardiogram at 1:30 (everything was "uneventful" - a good thing, according to the tech) then went back to finish up at school."

With some side effects, Becky noted that "the steroids in the chemo have me ravenous and jittery every three hours or so, and looking like I'm sunburned. No other yuckiness to report, thank goodness."

Packing some humor to ease the expedition is another survival strategy for Becky.

"I will lose my hair, but I got a prescription for a 'cranial prosthesis' (a.k.a. wig!)," she said. "I'm actually pretty excited about my options! Some days, I might wear a cap or scarf. I've heard how hot and itchy wigs are, but I'm grateful for choices."

Reassuring Travel Companions

Becky said she plans to have genetic testing to be sure of the "triple negative" diagnosis, which will provide the needed reassurance for her daughter who raised the question after a recent genetics class lecture on the subject.

"The pathology showed that the tumor is Estrogen Receptor negative, Progesterone Receptor negative, and appears to be HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) negative, but this testing will make sure," she explained. "A positive result would give other treatment options, and, of course there's always the 'more information is better' factor."

On her Facebook posts, Becky continually expresses her gratitude to her family, friends, co-workers, and students for their love and support, and traveling along with her in this often "scary expedition."

"Cancer is a terrifying word, but there is power in faith, hope, and love," she said. "I want to be a positive example in the lives of those around me."

In addition to her own children, those other (young) "lives" are 11- and 12- year-old students who think the world of their teacher, Ms. Bevill, and who would most likely travel with her on any expedition, even if it was to the moon and back.

Lessons Learned - When A Teacher Becomes a Student

What I have learned so far...

  • I have incredibly supportive and loving family and friends, ones that ask all the right questions and pray for me.
  • I am fortunate to live in a country, state, and city with outstanding doctors and facilities to guide me in this adventure.
  • All cancers are not the same, and are treated differently.
  • Chemo should make the tumor completely disappear.
  • They are unsure what kind of cancer this is, but because of its location, they are treating it as breast cancer.
  • Even when they remove the breast tissue and lymph nodes, they STILL won't be able to tell what kind of tumor it was.
  • Because the radiation can damage the skin, we wait till after to do reconstruction.

Click here to view the story from the Star-Telegram.

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