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 had been at least a decade since her last mammogram when longtime Columbus resident Linda Sutton uncovered a lump on her left breast that caused concern in September 2014.
“I just found it myself. It was a pretty good-sized lump,” recalled Sutton, who is the proud owner of Lavender Thyme Gifts at 2402 13th St. R. “I was terrified. I can remember sitting on my patio talking to my husband and he said, ‘it will be nothing’ and I said, ‘no it’s not nothing.’ So I made an appointment.”
She underwent a mammogram and a biopsy before her doctor told her she had about an inch-and-a-half-sized tumor. The tumor and two of Sutton’s lymph nodes were removed in a surgery that took place three days after she was first diagnosed. Then, that October, she started chemotherapy that lasted until mid-December (around the same time her second grandson was born). That was followed by radiation, which started in January 2015 and lasted until March (about the same time her father-in-law turned 90).
“Things moved very fast,” she said, noting the two family milestones help her remember the timeline of events.
Sutton recently celebrated five years of being breast cancer-free, though being a survivor isn’t lost on her. She’s always prided herself on being a kind person, but the whole ordeal gave her a new lease on life. She came across a quote from astronomer Carl Sagan about the photograph “Pale Blue Dot,” which is of planet Earth taken on Feb. 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers, that gave her a unique perspective.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known,” Sagan wrote.
She tries to live her everyday life by that quote.
“I get up every morning, take a deep breath and I try to think of five good things I can do that day,” she said, noting her ‘five good things’ can range from complimenting someone’s outfit, baking cookies for another or giving the UPS driver an ice cream bar on a hot day. “I feel like you've got to make people feel good and survive with a smile - do the best you can for yourself and other people.”
It wasn’t always easy, though. There were days when Sutton acknowledged she really struggled.
“If you don’t feel good, it’s OK,” she said. “There were times I didn’t feel great. Cancer can kick your butt.”
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She said it was difficult when she lost all of her hair due to her treatment, noting she opted for scarves instead of wigs. Only her husband and one of her grandsons saw her without her hair, but all of her loved ones gave her the strength to fight. That includes her husband, Terry; son, Jason; twin daughters, Abby and Ivy; and her four grandchildren (two grandsons, two granddaughters), as well as some close friends.
All of them and her late mother.
“Being a survivor means you just keep on going, you don’t give up,” she said. “I model myself after my mom, who had two marriages and six kids, and was a widow for 40 years. She was so strong. She was a tough cookie, but she was always happy. I never saw her without a smile.”
Terry said the same of his wife, calling her a special individual.
“She’s a strong person,” he said. “She’s children- and grandchildren-focused, very outgoing. She’s energetic and is a lot of fun to be with.”
He also noted she’s a great cook, citing her BLT soup among his favorite Linda dishes.
Looking back, Sutton said what made her experience a lot easier was having a great team of doctors right here in Columbus. Dr. Jeffrey Gotschall is her general practice doctor, while Dr. Ronald Ernst was her surgeon. Dr. Joan Keit and the other team members at Columbus Cancer Care handled her chemo and radiation treatments.
“Columbus is lucky to have the doctors we have,” said Sutton, who moved to town 46 years ago from Western Nebraska when her husband got a job at Nebraska Public Power District. “Dr. Keit and her staff are wonderful – I support them all.”
Sutton is feeling good these days, though noted she continues to take a hormone blocker. She and her family are optimistic about her diagnosis, but she stressed that people should not make the same mistake she did.
“I got lazy with my mammograms. Nobody in my family had any cancer - cancer was not anything we really dealt with,” Sutton said. “Don’t do that. Stay up-to-date on it all. Take every day as a gift -just keep going.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org