Cancer often does much damage before patients ever realize they are ill; outward symptoms sometimes don’t show up until it is nearly too late.
For this reason, medical professionals stress the importance of early detection through regular doctor visits. Debbie Bricco, keynote speaker at the 2011 Clintonville/Marion Relay For Life, echoes that advice-she is living proof of how early detection saves lives.
“My husband and I were preparing for fall harvest back in October 2009,” recalls Bricco. “I knew I needed to schedule a mammogram-October is breast cancer awareness month.
“I made my appointment one year and one day from my previous visit. I went to New London, and they called me back saying they had found some red flags,” continued Bricco. “They asked me to come in, saying it was probably nothing but they just wanted to play it safe. I went in two days later and met with a radiologist, who showed me a gray area. They did a biopsy, and I found out on Oct. 26 that I had cancer.”
Bricco then met with breast surgeon Dr. Deidre Flanagan at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Appleton. Flanagan looked at Bricco’s report and knew that a lumpectomy with radiation treatment might be necessary. Flanagan did a second biopsy, and that test showed cancer as well.
“Dr. Flanagan told me we had to do a mastectomy. That was pretty devastating. I thought my entire life was falling apart-but you get through it,” Bricco said. “I had the surgery on Nov. 9 during the day. They kept me overnight after the surgery and then sent me home the next day with a drainage pump.
“The pump was taken out on Friday. That was really hard-I lost it when they took off the bandages,” Bricco said. “My husband Joe, who is also a cancer survivor (Hodgkins) was with me, and he just looked away. Neither of us knew what to say.
“I was home 10 days after the surgery, and I tried to do some combine work,” said Bricco, who farms 700 acres with her husband. “I felt good, but once I got out there I realized it was just too soon.”
Flanagan had Bricco start taking an oral pill called Tamoxifen. A week later, Bricco met with an oncologist, who determined that her cancer was stage 1-not in her lymph nodes, and she would not need chemotherapy. However, doctors still didn’t like what they saw, and decided to treat Bricco’s cancer more aggressively.
“I started chemo. I took two drugs every other week for eight weeks, then two drugs every three weeks for 12 weeks, and then once every three weeks for one year. I finished on April 7 of this year,” Bricco stated.
“Through all of this, three of my kids-Jeremy (Alynna), Jessica (Brian), and Shannon (Craig)-got married,” Bricco continued. “I didn’t think I’d ever make it to see them get married, but I did. My 12-year-old daughter, Tiffany, was quite the little helper. It was hard for her because she was with me and had to see me sick and struggling, but she did very well.
“When I started chemo, my hair began to fall out about 10 days later, just like the doctors had said would happen,” continued Bricco. “So, my kids shaved my head. That was almost as bad as the surgery, but my kids helped me through it. The doctors, nurses, neighbors, friends and family were all so supportive. My brother Nathan was a huge encouragement. The people at St. Martin Lutheran Church were wonderful, as were the students and staff at St. Martin Lutheran School. Abby Krueger and her family did a pink lemonade and pink ribbon cookie sale to help out. My son-in-law Brian, who was not yet my son-in-law at the time, stayed with us the first two weeks after I learned I had cancer, and he did so much-he learned how to drive tractor, cooked meals, and did laundry. How many guys would do that for their future mother-in-law? So many of my friends and family did so much to help me get through this, and I can’t thank them enough.”
While in the hospital for treatment, Bricco met other cancer patients. “I met so many people who were so wonderful. Some of them won their battles, and some lost,” recalls Bricco. “Kathy, one of my close friends from Cecil, lost her battle in November. I remember her telling me a few months before she passed away: ‘Beat this, Debbie.’ It was very tough to see her in so much pain, and just as difficult when she died.”
After coming through this ordeal and having the opportunity to share her story, Bricco offers straight-forward advice to others who are battling cancer.
“Chemo is no fun, but it did the job for me. There are side-effects, but hopefully they will all go away,” Bricco said. “Rely upon your family, friends, and the doctors. If you have questions, ask your oncologist or other doctors. They are very helpful and can answer any question you may have.
“Please do the preventative tests,” concluded Bricco. “And always remember-it’s all in God’s hands. Trust Him that He will get you through it.”