HOUSTON – Terri Eaton remembers her grandmother’s battle with breast cancer and it is not one she wants to replicate in her own life or her daughter’s life.
Alleene Houser was 69 when she died of breast cancer. She found a lump in her breast in December but didn’t see a doctor about it until the following spring. After her 18-month battle, she passed away 30 years ago this coming January 5.
“It was just a time when you didn’t have the breast cancer awareness month in October and the push to have self-exams,” Eaton said. “There wasn’t that awareness we have now. She never even said the word ‘breast’ aloud. It was just that time.”
When Houser did see a doctor, her biopsy showed cancer and she had a mastectomy of her left breast, but the prognosis was not good.
“Of 25 lymph nodes, 23 were involved,” Eaton said, again adding that changes in awareness and a culture of openess weren’t available for that generation.
“At that time, women didn’t go every year to get a mammogram or even a checkup,” Eaton said.
Following a course of chemotherapy, Houser had scans to check her progress.
“They found it in the right breast,” Eaton said. “It was a different kind and the chemo had actually made it grow. By then, the cancer was in her bones.”
Eaton pointed to the advancements in medications and treatments available through research over the years.
“It was generational,” Eaton said. “They just didn’t have the things we have. They didn’t have the medications and treatments. Her chemo was the kind that made her so miserable and so sick.”
A new way of dealing with life
In the past 30 years, Eaton reached her own adulthood, married and became a mother to two children, Aubrey Love and Nicholas. She sees much more hope in cancer treatments now.
“They have come so far to know what kind of cancer it is and how to treat it,” Eaton said. “Then, if you had cancer, you treated it one way and that was it. I’m glad it has come so far and made as much progress as it has.”
Another change Eaton sees is in the culture of sharing information with her children about tough issues like cancer.
“Like with Aubrey, I will discuss anything with her,” Eaton said. “I don’t hide anything and don’t cover it up. It makes her more aware and more comfortable as she ages to ask questions of her doctor.”
Although she is happy to see the progress that has been made in cancer research, she wishes it could have come sooner.
“I loved Mama Houser to death,” Eaton said. “I still can’t look at a homemade coconut cake without thinking of her. And it was so hard to see her so sick.”