OKEECHOBEE — Darlene Bass has been through breast cancer twice despite doing everything possible to prevent it from coming back a second time. She found it the first time in 2009 after she and her husband, Keith, returned from Nashville. She realized something was wrong, because her left nipple had inverted. When she got in the shower that night, that little voice still told her to check herself, and she did. She felt a lump and asked her husband to see if he felt it, because she said at that point she was still in denial. He did feel it, though, so the next morning she got hold of her gynecologist, and made an appointment.
When she went in, she filled out the paperwork, and it asked if there was anything different from the year before. Well, she had been doing mammograms for nine years, and this year, she was just running a little bit late because of a medical procedure she had done earlier. All the previous ones had come back great. When she went in to see the doctor, she could tell by his face as he was examining her that he was very concerned. His whole demeanor had changed. When they finished, he told her to go do her mammogram and before she was even finished, he had scheduled an ultrasound. That was on a Friday, and they told her she wouldn’t have the results until late the following week, but Tuesday night, she got a call from her doctor, and he told her it was not good. He wanted her to see a surgeon for a biopsy right away.
The following day, his office called her, and while they were on the phone with her, Dr. Rene Loyola, the surgeon he wanted her to see. got a cancellation for Thursday. He took one look at her mammogram and ultrasound, and told her he was 98% sure it was cancer, and she just lost it. He wouldn’t let her leave until she had time to calm down. Her husband was blowing up her phone, but she didn’t want to tell him on the phone, so she wouldn’t answer him. She finally calmed down and went home, and she told him it did not look good.
She said, being a typical woman, she thought of all the stories she had heard of husbands who had left their wives because they didn’t know how to deal with it, and even though they had been together over 20 years at that time, it still was a concern. “That’s how the devil works,” she said. “He plants those things in your mind to make you upset.” So, she asked him what would happen if they had to cut off her breast, and he said, “I’d rather have you with no breasts than not have you at all.” That was the best thing he could have said to her, she said.
The next day, she had the biopsy, and they said it would be Wednesday of the following week before they would have the results, and he wanted to see her on Thursday. On Monday, she got a phone call, and he told her it was cancer, and he wanted to see her the next day. He told her, “Sweetheart, these are your options: You have none. We need to remove the whole left breast, the nipple and everything.” He told them it did not look good, and that it was very aggressive.
He asked for surgery to be set as soon as possible. That afternoon, as she lay there thinking about it, she knew she only had to do the left side, because the right side looked good, but she called her HR at work and asked if she decided to go ahead and do both sides, would it be covered, and they said yes. She asked if a reconstruction would be covered, and they said it would, so she called the doctor, and told him she wanted to go ahead and have both breasts removed. She said she could tell he was relieved, because he couldn’t recommend that unless there was already something there, but it lessens the chance of recurrence. That’s what they thought.
From the time she had the mammogram until she had the double mastectomy, it was three weeks. She had to wait until after she finished chemo to do the reconstruction. Chemo is something she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy, she said, but the Lord brought her through it. She thinks faith is 95% of anyone’s healing, no matter what it is. She didn’t know why she was going through this, but she knew it was something she had to get through. She finished chemo, lost all her hair, went back to work. Everything was great.
After five years in remission, she developed lymphodemia in her left arm and went through treatments, and in November 2014, she had a surgery which was new to the United States. It was called a vascular lymph node transfer. They went into her groin area and transfered lymph nodes from there to under her arm because when they’d done her double mastectomy, they took out 19 lymph nodes, because the cancer was in them. Everything seemed to go well afterward, but a year later, they were on another bluegrass trip, and she didn’t feel well and was in a lot of pain. She told her husband something was wrong. She didn’t feel a lump or anything, she just didn’t feel well and knew something was wrong. She had just seen her oncologist in October, and he had drawn her blood and done her markers, and everything looked fine. She saw Dr. Loyola, explained what was going on, and when he examined her, he found two lumps, one in her chest wall and one in the axillary. The doctor was floored to find these lumps, she said. He sent her for a breast MRI right away and just before Thanksgiving, she was told she had cancer… again.
In December, they did surgery, and removed the tumors. She was stage four, this time. She did extensive chemo and then 37 rounds of radiation, five days a week. The day she finished radiation, she developed sepsis and was in the hospital for 11 days. It took quite a while to bounce back after that, she said. They knew she wasn’t going to be able to return to work anytime soon, and even though it broke her heart to do it, she had to resign from a job she had been with for 20 years.
She said she didn’t know what she would have done without her husband. Oct. 14 is their 30th anniversary, and they have three adult children and seven grandchildren. “Keith has been my rock through all of this,” she said.
Mrs. Bass’ mother came to help take care of her while she went through her surgeries and her treatments, and she was a tremendous blessing.
“She was my sidekick, my right hand and my best friend,” said Mrs. Bass. “There were doctor’s appointments just about every week, and she was the one who was there to take me to those appointments.”