Couple who experienced cancer share their story

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, November 15, 2007

By By ERIKA PICKLES / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Hearing the words breast cancer is enough to make anyone scared. Whether you, a family member or a friend has been diagnosed, it's something that most people dread.
Unfortunately, breast cancer affects 240,000 women every year, and Linda Clauson was one of them.
Linda and her husband, Jim, spoke to the Breast Cancer Survivors Support Group at First Baptist Church Wednesday afternoon about their experiences with breast cancer.
In August 2003, Linda was diagnosed with breast cancer after an annual mammogram revealed a suspicious area in her breast. Linda said she was lucky, though, as she only had a mastectomy to remove her breast. No radiation of chemotherapy were needed.
"It all happened so fast. One day I was being diagnosed and I remember going in for a 7 a.m. appointment not long after and finding out I was having surgery that morning," Linda said. "That is a day I will never forget. It was a Thursday morning. But I was actually happy I had it done. I just wanted the cancer gone."
Linda got her wish, as the cancer was successfully removed.
Six months later, while on vacation, Jim noticed a lump on his breast. He described it as looking like a pencil eraser.
"Linda told me I needed it checked out and with what she just went through, I knew I should get it looked at," he explained.
The two got back from vacation on a Sunday night. By Wednesday, Jim still had not made an appointment with his family doctor.
"Linda called me and said 'you have an appointment Friday.' She was getting a little upset because I hadn't made the appointment yet," he said.
After visiting the family doctor and having the lump removed, Jim was told it was probably nothing. He went back a week later to have the stitches removed and was informed the lump was actually something serious.
"He told me he was cutting to the chase and said I had breast cancer. I was confused. I had never heard of men getting breast cancer," he said.
Jim also had a mastectomy, and had to undergo four rounds of chemotherapy.
"I lost my hair, but thankfully we have great friends and family who supported me through it all. I even had a few friends who shaved their heads. Support is so important when going through something like that," he said.
Although it may be hard to believe, men can get breast cancer. Around 1,500 men are diagnosed each year with the cancer, with the death rate at a surprising 40 percent.
"The rate is so high because men don't think they can get it. They may notice a lump on heir breast and never do anything about it. It's so important for men to also do self exams because you never know," he said.
Now, three years later, Jim and Linda feel very fortunate that they beat breast cancer and do what they can to stress the importance of having support.
"We feel lucky that we were both able to rid the cancer. Now we feel it's time to reach out and help others," Linda said.
After reading an article in Lifeline Magazine, Jim noticed information about a program called Y-ME, a Chicago-based national nonprofit organization with the mission to ensure, through information, empowerment and peer support, that no one faces breast cancer alone.
"I thought it would be something great for us to volunteer for. So I called the number, we went through the proper training and now we give support to others who are dealing with breast cancer," Jim said.
The two are part of the Y-ME hotline, which allows people to call and talk with the two about breast cancer.
"So many people who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no one there for support and that's what we are there for. We get calls from people who are going through treatments, husband's whose wives are going through it and we just give them the best advice and support we can," Linda said.
The Y-ME National Breast Cancer Hotline is the only 24/7 call center operated by trained peer counselors who are breast cancer survivors. The hotline takes more than 40,000 calls a year. Y-ME counselors do not give medical advice, but give emotional support and information about breast cancer, procedures and treatment options.
Y-ME was founded over a kitchen table in 1978 by the late Ann Marcou and Mimi Kaplan, two breast cancer patients who sought to provide support for fellow breast cancer patients and their loved ones. From these humble beginnings, Y-ME transformed into a national organization that helped revolutionize the way breast cancer patients access information and make decisions about their healthcare.
The organization is celebrating 30 years as a premier resource for breast cancer information and services, all provided completely free of charge. The Lifetime Movie Network just finished filming a documentary about the organization in Chicago, and Jim and Linda were part of it.
"It should air sometime after the first of the year," Linda said.
If you or someone you know needs breast cancer information or support, call the 24-hour Y-ME National Breast Cancer Hotline at 1-800-221-2141 or 1-800-986-9505 (Spanish).
The Breast Cancer Survivors Support Group of Niles meet each month, but will not be meeting in December. The purpose of the group is to provide comradeship and support for those with similar experiences, as well as on-going education about breast cancer. For further information contact Cathy Bair, 683-2959.