“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
These words of 1800’s poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau are words to live by for cancer survivor Cheryl Riley. Two years after her battle with breast cancer, she walks the track almost daily at the Salt Fork YMCA in Marshall, often wearing a “cancer survivor,” “Relay for Life” or “Pink Out” T-shirt.
As she recalls her journey through early detection and treatment of breast cancer, she says she’s “so very fortunate to have the treatments so close to home right here at the Cancer Center.”
With October marking Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Riley’s story serves as testament to the benefits of both 3D mammography for detecting breast cancer in the earliest stages and the convenience of the Community Cancer Center at Fitzgibbon Hospital, which offers both medical and radiation oncology for patients with cancer.
“I was so thankful that I was able to have radiation here,” says Riley, who was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in March of 2016 – just months after Fitzgibbon Hospital installed a new, state-of-the-art 3D mammography machine.
“I remember it was a Wednesday. I no sooner had gotten home that they wanted me to come back to have another (mammogram), because the radiologist was there. She saw something on the mammogram she didn’t like,” says Riley.
The “something” was not the benign calcification that Cheryl hoped it was. Instead, it was breast cancer - in its early stages. One of the benefits of 3D mammography is the clarity of images that reduces the number of biopsies performed to determine if lesions are cancerous.
“Thanks to the 3D mammography, they caught it really, really early,” she says.
After a surgical procedure to remove the cancerous tissue, Riley says her treatment plan included radiation treatments for 30 straight days. She says the convenience of having the treatments at the local Cancer Center didn’t disrupt her walking schedule. Riley is a retired teacher, having taught math for 18 years in the Marshall School District as well as several years in both the Sweet Springs and Slater school districts. She started walking years ago with fellow retired teachers Linda Clark and Coradean Naylor and continues that routine today.
“I would walk every day at the Y, and then go right afterwards over to the hospital for radiation,” she says. “A lot of times people were coming in from far away – from up by Trenton or further. And I thought, ‘how fortunate I am that I can come right out here, so close.’ I don’t know why anyone would drive anywhere else every day, when you can get your treatments right in Marshall.”
She makes special note of the kindness she was shown at the Cancer Center.
“The ladies at the Cancer Center were so pleasant to work with, and the facility is just wonderful,” says Riley.
“They have water and Cokes and little snacks for the patients who want them. It was so nice for me,” she says, adding that the snacks were welcomed after her early morning walk.
Now age 73, Riley has not let her successful fight with cancer slow her down, although she’s reminded of the cancer with a daily dose of medication.
“They put me on a drug - this little pill,” she says, pinching her fingers together to show the size of the tablet prescribed by her oncologist. “I’ll have to take it for 10 years.”
Riley keeps busy helping with the family farm and cattle breeding operation. She helps take meals to the field during harvest, and when husband Gary and son Matt are busy with embryo transfer in the barn, she prepares a dinner for as many as 10 men and totes it “picnic-style” to the barn.
“And I do all the yard work,” she adds proudly with a smile. “It takes me three days sometimes to get done what I used to do in one. But walking…that keeps my legs in good shape.”
As she counts her family, her active lifestyle and daily walking routine among her blessings, she also counts the Community Cancer Center of Fitzgibbon Hospital.
“I think we are just so fortunate that we have this in our community,” Riley says. “This is a blessing.”