Finding Support

By Blair Jackson
Susan Earnest’s official title is breast care navigator. Working with the Cancer Support Home, she journeys alongside women as they fight the disease — through the diagnosis, the surgery, the radiation or chemotherapy, to the end of their treatment, or the end of their lives. She is a guardian angel of sorts, but one in a human body that is also susceptible to illness. Six weeks ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Susan’s own abnormality was discovered during her yearly mammogram. Recounting her reaction from that day in August, she says, “When (the doctor) put the picture up, I thought, ‘Whoever that woman is, ‘ even though I knew it was me, ‘she’ll need a biopsy masectomy.”

When we sit down in her office, I am surprised to hear that she has already had a simple skin-sparing masectomy. A cluster of cancerous calcifications was removed, along with a majority of the tissue in her left breast. In the beginning stages of reconstruction, an expander has been inserted behind her pectoralis muscle. It will stretch the muscle to make room for a saline implant.

As an expert in the options and procedures for breast cancer treatment, Susan knew what to expect and which paths she wanted to take. But having never been on the patient side of cancer, there were some things Susan could not have prepared for.

“I’ve been surprised at how uncomfortable it’s been. I’m constantly aware of the expander, and it’s hard as a rock.” Susan also says there’s a fatigue that comes with the surgery, though she has done well to hide any of those symptoms during our interview.

She says experiencing the surgery and the disease personally has introduced a new dynamic to her professional understanding of surviving breast cancer. “Having the personal experience, not of chemo, but of the surgery side, has given me insight,” she says.

“I like knowing what happens every step of the way,” says Susan, who now has firsthand knowledge of most of the aspects of breast cancer patienthood. She even has her own breast cancer navigator, who works out of the Bentonville Cancer Support Home.

Cancer Support Home

Funded by grants and the Susan G. Komen foundation, The Cancer Support Home has four bedrooms that temporarily house patients and their families for free. There is also a library and a mini-boutique where women can find wigs and prosthetic bras.

The center is supporting breast cancer awareness month by filling its lawn with decorated pink stakes. The goal of the project is to bring awareness to what’s at stake in the lives of women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.  To learn more about this project, contact the Cancer Support Home at 479-521-8024.

As a part of the statewide “No Excuses” program, The Cancer Support Home will be conducting free breast and cervical cancer screenings for those who have no medical insurance or who are underinsured. Call 479-521-8024 to make an appointment. Screenings will be offered from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 15 at the NWA Free Health Clinic on College Avenue.

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