Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 2, 2000

Jeanne Norman: surviving a death sentence

By Lynda Jensen

Cancer was the last thing on Jeanne Norman's mind last spring.

It was something that happened to other people. After all, she didn't have a history of breast cancer in her family, except for one aunt.

Norman, 49, has lived in Winsted for 30 years.

This changed her life forever right before Mother's Day last year, when she discovered a lump on her left side. It was sitting on top of scar tissue from a biopsy that was taken five years earlier. That biopsy turned out to be benign, but this biopsy was something different.

"When you get a mammogram that comes back abnormal, you kind of go off the deep end," Norman said.

She waited three days for her fears to be confirmed: it was cancer.

"When you hear the word 'cancer' - that's all you hear at first," she said. "Your mind just shuts off for a minute. You have to go back and ask more questions."

After the diagnosis, Norman was led through a series of tests and procedures that took over her life for the next seven months.

She underwent surgery to have a lumpectomy and 16 lymph nodes removed May 19, 1999. Cancer was removed from her left breast about the size of the end of her thumb, and also from one of her lymph nodes.

More tests. She had to submit to bone scans, bloodwork, an MRI . . . and a test where her blood was taken out of her arm, tainted with radioactive material, and then re-injected into her bloodstream.

Emotionally, the worst part was hearing the diagnosis, she said. Physically, the worst part was the chemotherapy and the loss of her hair. She endured four sessions of chemotherapy over a 12-week period.

"Its strange," she said of chemotherapy. "You have time to sit there and think," while they inject you with toxic chemicals, she said. "They're putting poison in your system that will - hopefully - kill what it's supposed to," she added.

After each session of chemotherapy, medical staff recommended she drink lots of water to clear her system, and Gatorade to replenish electrolytes.

"I went from a grandma with long hair to shorter hair, and then, no hair at all," she said, describing the effects of chemotherapy.

Two weeks after the first session, her hair would come out in large handfuls, she said. "I thought 'fine.' At least I still have my life," she said. She wore a wig all of the time.

In fact, when her hair grew back, it changed permanently to a different color. It was brown and became dark brunette as well as curly, Norman said.

During her first week after chemotherapy, Norman's white blood cell count dropped to one. Normally, it's not safe to perform chemo if the blood count is below 10.

"At that point, everyone went nuts," she said. "That means your immune system is zero."

Next came the radiation. This affects the skin a lot like a microwave, she said.

Radiation patients often suffer from burns and skin damage. Norman was one of the lucky ones, she said, since she didn't suffer cracking or oozing skin, like others.

Norman has been cancer free for almost a year now. However, she sees her oncologist every three months and is taking tamozisen, a cancer-preventative medicine for the next five years.

"It's not the death sentence it used to be," she said.

Survivors need the help of family to get them through the ordeal. A positive attitude is essential, she said. Her mother, Gladys Galvin, helped her through the experience. Her fiance, Mike Klein, also gave a lot of support.

What is different now? "My priorities changed. I do more with my day," she said. She also spends more time with her family.

Her three children, Troy, 27, Julie, 23, and Tim, 20, stood behind her every step of the way; as well as her daughter-in-law, Emily, she said.

Her advice for those who know a breast cancer victim "Be there for them," she said.

If Norman could go back in time and change anything, she would have asked for more mammograms, she said. She was guilty of thinking that her lump was something she accidentally did to herself through the course of the day, she said.

"Pay attention to your own body. you're the best judge of how you feel," she said.

Having regular mammograms every two or three years is also crucial to good health, Norman said. Just one mammogram will not help doctors. Mammograms are used in a series to see what's different in one from another, she said.

Now, Norman walks at the "Race for the Cure" breast cancer fund-raiser at Southdale. The event happens at Mother's Day annually and is sponsored by the Susan G. Komen foundation, a non-profit organization.

Norman also attends a support group in Waconia, she said.

For additional information about breast cancer, Norman recommends on the Internet.

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