Editor's note: In honor of October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, this week The Columbus Telegram is publishing profiles of area residents who are breast cancer survivors as part of our second-annual "Think Pink" series in collaboration with Columbus Cancer Care, which worked with us to find profile candidates. Our masthead on the front page will also be pink throughout the week.
It was a double whammy for Marilyn Nolan of Columbus in 2007.
First, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Then, she dealt with the tragedy of her son, Terry, passing away the following year. Terry was dependent on his mother for comfort and support because of his Down syndrome.
“I don’t know how Terry would have handled it if he lost me,” Nolan said. “In a way, it was an answered prayer, but it’s been very painful.”
The pain has continued longer for Nolan than for others in her same position. Nolan had her cancer removed, only to have the illness show up in her spine in 2012, and later, in her hips. The pain is never-ending, and some people in her position might lose all hope. But Nolan isn't that kind of person. She finds a way forward through faith - faith in herself, faith in others and faith in a higher power.
“There’s a Scripture (verse), ‘I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day,’” Nolan said. “Through all of the things that have gone on in my life, the one thing that is constant (is) it is well with my soul. I know where I’m going and I’m not afraid of dying.”
The pain started for Nolan when her family life got in the way of getting a routine mammogram. It had been seven years since her last, and dealing with Terry and the rest of the family proved to be an obstacle in terms of getting a checkup.
One day, she found a lump on one of her breasts and knew that a mammogram was needed. When she went in, it didn’t take a biopsy for doctors to conclude that she had breast cancer.
“Dr. Morris told me before he did the biopsy, ‘Marilyn, it’s breast cancer,’” Nolan said. “Then he wanted all my family there to decide what we were going to do. I wanted a mastectomy, and he said I was a good candidate for breast salvation and conservation. I said I would like to have a mastectomy and reconstruction right away. He said, ‘If we do that, it would be 10 days to two weeks.’ I said, ‘If we do the lumpectomy, when can we do that?’ He said, ‘Tomorrow morning.’”
You have free articles remaining.
The news of Nolan’s breast cancer spread among her family, including to her daughter, Annette Alt, currently a State Farm insurance agent in Columbus. When she got the news, she said she was scared to death of what it meant for her mother.
“At that time, I was working in health care, so I probably knew a little bit more than I wanted to at that point,” Alt said. “You know how some knowledge in that field can make you a little bit dangerous sometimes? My mind was going in a lot of different directions at that time.”
She soon calmed down and became determined to help her mother fight the disease. And fight she has. Even though the condition still lingers within her spine and hips and she struggles with allergies to pain medication caused by the cancer metastasizing, she has survived longer than anyone thought possible.
Even the hard-working doctors who have given her comfort and strength over the years couldn't have predicted the way that Nolan’s cancer journey has gone.
“She (a doctor) told me the pill only works for a year and that was two years ago,” Nolan said. “My saying is, ‘Who’s in charge here?’ I think God’s been stepping in.
“My granddaughter got married last June, and when my hairdresser, Meg, was doing my hair, she said, ‘Marilyn, I shouldn’t say this.’ I said, ‘No, go ahead and say it.’ She said, ‘A year ago, we didn’t think you’d be here.’ I was there for Ashton’s wedding, (and) now, I hope I can be around to see some (great) grand babies.”
She has some recommendations for the younger members of the family and others in the area, most importantly finding the time to get screenings so that they can maybe avoid her ongoing situation.
“Get your mammogram,” Nolan said. “My daughter and my granddaughters need to be watching. Our immediate family needs to be watching. Guys, too, need to be watching. My son had a male employee who had breast cancer. Men can get it, too.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.