This is part II of a series on local breast cancer survivors to highlight Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Special to the Fort Mill Times
Tuesday was a beautiful and quiet morning on Main Street. An early autumn breeze nipped gently at the bandstand, and fresh sunshine spilled into Confederate Park. For S.C. District 26 Rep. Raye Felder, it was already a morning worth celebrating.
Nearly 20 years ago, on the day before Thanksgiving 1993, Felder was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nearing the 20th anniversary of her diagnosis, Felder (R-Fort Mill) pauses to give thanks, to remember and to share her experiences.
“At that time, we had a group of professional business women in Fort Mill. There were about 30 of us. We were Professional Women in Business. That was our organization. During my battle with breast cancer, three of us were diagnosed,” she said.
“I think I was the first, which is where the statistics really come to life. When you’ve got a group in Fort Mill – and this was 20 years ago –and out of 30, three of us were diagnosed. Out of the three, I’m the only survivor. Meredith and Sue both passed away soon after diagnosis, so it was a very difficult time. I was in my early 30s. The other two were older ladies, but not much older. It was a very good support group for all of us. The entire group offered a tremendous amount of support. They were there.”
Treatment has changed since then.
“I chose to do surgery followed by chemo and radiation, and I chose to do chemo and radiation consecutively,” Felder said. “At that time, that was not encouraged, but I felt like I was young enough, healthy enough, strong enough to do both at the same time.”
Felder said it “was the physical toll” that was toughest to handle.
“This was 20 years ago, so research wasn’t quite as far along as it is now, and of course the radiation by itself left a lot of burning, a lot of tiredness, a lot of swelling, and then when you take that alongside the nausea related to the chemotherapy…it was difficult. I adjusted. I continued to work when I could, wore a wig – and of course I lost all my hair. That was a difficult thing, to wake up and your hair was still on your pillow.
“You’re prepared. They tell you that. You knew that was a possibility going in, so you’re somewhat prepared, but I don’t think you’re ever truly prepared until it happens. I guess the right way to describe that feeling, even though you’ve been told, but to wake up that morning and realize you had more hair on the pillow than was on your head, and from that day forward you had to make a decision. I was prepared. I had already purchased a wig. I was ready, so then it was a matter to shave the little bit that was left, put on the wig, and face the world. It was a step. I was moving forward.”
And it all began just before the holidays.
“It’s overwhelming,” Felder said.
“I had my biopsy the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the day of the biopsy we knew the results. We didn’t have all the information, but we knew it was malignant, so immediately you’re faced with making the decisions of what treatment options you’re going to take. From then forward I think every day is a new little goal: ‘What am I going to get through today?’ You know, ‘Today I am going to make the decision of what I’m going to do. Then I’m going to make the decision of what surgeon I’m going to use. Then I’m going to make the decision of what hospital,’ so then every day becomes the opportunity to reach that goal.”
The chance to “accomplish something” is what kept her going, Felder said.
“I’m a very goal-oriented person. At the end of the day I want to accomplish something, and the first few weeks, you feel as if you’re not accomplishing anything. You’re just wasting time because you have to wait for the appointment to talk to the surgeon, you have to wait for the appointment to talk with admissions, so it’s such a wait there to begin with. Once you’re fully enveloped into the treatment plan, then every day becomes ‘What can I accomplish today,’” Felder said.