Twice Detected, Twice Blessed

 One Woman’s Journey with Breast Cancer

Donna England

The Ashland Beacon


   “You have breast cancer.” The four most devastating words every woman never wants to hear. But to hear those words twice in 12 years would seem to be more than any woman could bear. And yet for Russell resident Margaret King, hearing those words a second time in her life only strengthened her resolve to fight and survive.

   “I wasn’t all that concerned last December when I was told I had stage one breast cancer again. I had been through it before 12 years ago and knew I would be OK.,” King said. Yet as she began to tear up, she added, “But this time was different because my husband and mother had both passed and the first thing I thought is, what am I going to do? How am I going to do this without them?”

   It didn’t take long for her to find the answer. A devoted and long-standing member of Advance Methodist Church in Flatwoods, it was King’s church family, her niece and a retired nurse from the county health department that immediately stepped up to the plate. 

   “My church family surrounded me. I had 187,000 people here to help me” She laughed. “They came every day bringing me food, offering to take me to my radiation, although I insisted on driving myself,” she said.

   One of the most touching things for King was a letter from another breast cancer survivor who, in her elderly years, could not help in other ways. “Jimmy Lyons mother, Jean Lyons, wrote me the most beautiful letter. I mean, the fact she took the time to hand write that inspired and helped me so much. I put my faith in God and in science,” King said.

   King also relied on her niece for help and support. “My niece, Angie, basically took the place of my late husband and mother. I could not have done it without her or my friend Nannette Stevens who is a retired nurse from the health department.”

   “I have never been a person to tear up or cry, but when I think of how good they were to me, I can’t help it,” she said with tear-filled eyes and a smile on her face.

   And smile is something King does often. Well-known in her community for her positive attitude and great sense of humor, she always finds a way to find to make a joke and laugh even when she heard those devastating words in her first battle against a deadly disease that has claimed the lives of millions of women. A journey as a breast cancer survivor that began at the age of 47.

   “It was kind of a fluke on how they found it the first time,” King laughed. She explained that after cutting her thumb, she went to the local family outreach center, thinking she may need a few stitches. Turns out, she didn’t need stitches, but the doctor noticed she had not had a mammogram in a while.

   “She kept pushing the mobile mammogram unit that was going to be at the care center next week and I just laughed and said, ‘Are you a doctor or a salesperson,’” King said, laughing in her usual jokester style. But then a more serious tone came over her voice.

   “Because she kept pushing, essentially, she saved my life,” she added. “Now, whenever I have a chance to get on my soapbox, I tell anyone willing to listen the importance of getting annual mammograms and early detection.”

   King took the advice of the physician and scheduled a visit to the mobile mammogram, thinking everything would be fine. She even put off opening the results letter. “I remember I got the letter in the mail and Dave, (King’s late husband) and I were on our way out to go camping. I threw it aside and left for the camping trip, not concerned at all and it could wait till we got back,” she explained.

   When she did get around to opening the letter, the news was not something she was expected. There was a mass and it was determined to be stage one breast cancer. “I wasn’t that concerned. It was stage one, and we caught it early,” King said.

   However, after having the lumpectomy on her right breast, it was still not over. “It was shocking. It blew me away. My margins weren’t clear; I was a little shook-up,” King said. “I remember thinking whatever the outcome I prayed to God wherever this takes me to not let me be a burden on anyone. I didn’t want to be a burden is all I could think.”

   Margins are the additional tissue that is removed around a tumor to see whether any cancer cells may have spread outside of the tumor. King then had to go in for a second surgery where additional tissue was removed as well as her lymph nodes being checked, followed up by 30 radiation treatments. “I drove myself to the treatments, but I could not have done it without the support of my husband and mother,” King said, remembering her first battle.

   She also received a lot of support for her former employer Michael Wilson, a prominent attorney and county attorney in Greenup County. Though King insisted on continuing to work throughout her battle, it was Wilson who insisted on her at least taking every Friday off. “He made me take Fridays off, I really didn’t want to,” King laughed. And it was Wilson who threw her one of the most memorable celebrations when she was declared cancer-free.

   “He rented a bus and he picked up me and all of the office workers at both his law office and the county office and picked up Dr. Legenza and her entire staff and took us all out to eat. It was a blast. But the best thing is he gave us all pink T-shirts that said, ‘Save the Ta-Tas.’” Though retired now, King added, “I could not have worked for a better man than Michael Wilson. People never know all the things he quietly does to help others.”

   Her second battle was in the left breast and again, her margins weren’t clear. And again, after two surgeries and 30 radiation treatments, King has been declared cancer-free.

   Surviving one battle against breast cancer is becoming more and more common thanks to modern technology and better treatment, but surviving two is a double blessing, something King is quick to point out when she emphasizes the importance of early and often screenings.

   “I think some women are scared to know and put off having mammograms. I think some just don’t like the pain of a mammogram. But let me tell you, what you feel when having a mammogram is nothing compared to the pain you have from the scar tissue after you had surgery for breast cancer. It is excruciating. I cannot stress enough the uncomfortable feeling you have from a mammogram is not near as bad, and the importance of early detection can save your life. So please get your annual mammograms because if you detect it early, you can survive.”

   For those who are now battling breast cancer, King has some sage advice being a twice survivor. “It is important to be optimistic and have a sense of humor. Attitude is everything and a positive attitude helps to bring about a positive result in your health,” King explained.

   “There are always people who have much bigger problems than mine,” she said with a smile.