Advanced Breast Cancer Survivor

Survivor perseveres through two diagnoses in one year

Blanche Williams is a remarkable woman. Despite diagnoses of breast and colon cancer within a year of one another (2003 and 2004), she courageously survived and continues to encourage others. Blanche was married to Claude “Fiddler” Williams — a jazz great — from 1991 until he passed away in 2004. She was an assistant personnel manager at Continental Baking Company in Kansas City, Mo. for 23 years before she retired in 1993. Blanche has three sons (a fourth passed away), four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She now lives in Santa Cruz, California, where she enjoys walking every day.

 

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was already in treatment for colon cancer. I had a lot of reasons to be really down and out and hopeless because my husband was also ill at the same time. I knew, however, that I did not have time to be sick because he needed me. Whenever I speak with people who are newly diagnosed with cancer, I tell them, “If I could make it — so can you.”

I married my husband, Claude Williams, in 1991. He was a world-famous jazz musician, and after I retired in 1993, I traveled occasionally with him and helped with his bookings. He was playing all over the world, and we had a wonderful time. In 2000, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He could still play, but I needed to begin traveling with him all the time.

In 2003, I went for a routine physical and my doctor recommended that I have a colonoscopy. After the procedure, the doctor returned with the results and told me that I had to go to the hospital that evening. He had seen something and wanted to operate.

The doctor refused to listen to all the reasons I couldn’t do this. So that afternoon, I made arrangements for my husband to go to a nursing home and then packed my things to go to the hospital. Claude was in complete dismay and didn’t want to go. I told him I would come back for him soon — as I felt fine and had no idea what was coming next.

In surgery, they found stage III colon cancer and removed the right side of my colon. This was completely unexpected and things began happening quickly. The good news was I did not have to have a colostomy bag because the cancer hadn’t perforated the colon.

I began chemotherapy soon afterward. All this wasn’t easy to explain to my husband. I was so nauseated and sick from the medicine that I would go to the nursing home and just lay across his bed for those six months of treatment. I drove to see him every day -— three or four times a day. Somehow, I just got through it.

During my recovery, they discovered I had a lump in my left breast. For years, my doctors had been watching me as I had cysts in my breasts, but nothing cancerous. Now they wanted to do a biopsy. The results: it was malignant. They advised me to postpone surgery until after I finished my current chemotherapy. A second opinion confirmed this recommendation.

Then, Claude became sick. He developed pneumonia in both lungs and suddenly passed away. It was a very difficult time. My whole focus had been on him while he was living. After he passed, I kept telling myself, I could survive and that God was not giving me more than I could handle.

When I was sufficiently recovered from my colon cancer treatment, I elected to have a bilateral mastectomy. There was no cancer in my right breast, but given my history, I did not want to go through this again. I had no family in Kansas City, but my youngest son, Brent, who lives in California, came to be with me. I couldn’t have made it without him.

Fortunately, I did not have to have a second course of chemotherapy. When I began to feel better, I focused on my faith and told myself that I was going to beat this. After a year, I elected to have reconstruction and chose saline implants. I am a lady full of scars!

A few months later, I looked down one morning and my right breast was indented. I quickly called my doctor and went to his office, where he re-inflated it. Now that was something. Thankfully, everything has been fine since then.

After my experiences, I find I enjoy simple things more — like sunsets. When you have your health, all other things are possible. God and I walked through this journey together and I am cancer-free. I have a beautiful life in California, am close to my family, and I appreciate life more every day.

 

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