The ache in Cathy Fleegle’s breast didn’t worry her much at first.
Sure, she thought about cancer. At 56, she’d had seven or eight biopsies and knew the risks. But she’d heard people say that cancer didn’t hurt, so she decided it must be something else.
Then she found a lump on that side and scheduled an appointment with Dr. Patti Stefanick – whom she refers to as “an angel.”
Her doctor ordered a biopsy, but this time it was different for Fleegle.
“Deep in my heart, I knew it was cancer,” she recalled.
Tests determined she would need to have her breast removed, but the Shanksville-area woman wanted to go a step further.
“I already knew that I wanted to have both breasts removed,” she said. She remembered the experience a friend had gone through after she had one breast removed only to have the cancer spread to the other breast.
So in the fall of 2007, Fleegle underwent a double mastectomy.
Surprisingly, since the cancer had not spread, the surgery was done on an outpatient basis at Memorial Medical Center.
Also surprisingly, Fleegle didn’t have much pain from the procedure.
“I really didn’t need too much pain medicine,” she recalled. “It went very well.”
After recovering at home, Fleegle had a mediport put in as preparation for chemotherapy treatment that started a few days later.
Every few weeks for six months, she had a treatment and, since her cancer was estrogen based, she also had herceptin treatments every Monday.
She said she was afraid of the side effects of the treatments but was told she would feel “kind of like I had the flu.”
But the first treatment was much worse than she expected and she ended up getting treated for nausea.
The rest of her treatments were not as bad – although she did experience problems with diarrhea.
She had heard about the possibility of mouth sores and was happy when that side effect did not materialize.
Still, she had little appetite, except for a weird craving for Italian food.
Fleegle was told the treatments were playing havoc with her hormones, resulting in things like “crying while I was doing the dishes.”
“I just wanted to feel normal again,” she said.
“And I knew that I wasn’t going to until this was over.”
Eventually the chemo treatments ended and, since the cancer had not spread into her lymph nodes, Fleegle did not have to have radiation.
She now sees her doctor every year and has blood work every six months. She also is on medication aimed at keeping cancer from returning.
She has high praise for her husband, Larry, for his support during her cancer ordeal.
“He was a godsend,” she said. “He was laid off at the time so he was here with me. He drove me to all my appointments and would sit there and not complain. He was a blessing.”
But Fleegle said it was her faith in God that got her through her difficult days.
“I trusted the Lord and I had a calming feeling that it was going to work out,” she said.
It was the second time Fleegle made it through cancer.
In 2001, after problems with her vision, she was diagnosed with melanoma behind her eye.
Treatment in Pittsburgh was not successful and eventually she was diagnosed with two types of cancer and had her eye removed.
Fleegle believes cancer has made her a better person.
“It makes you realize how short life can be,” she said.
“You learn to just kind of live for the moment.”
Fleegle, who works as a baker at Em’s Original Sub Shop in downtown Johnstown, has two sons and six grandchildren – all girls.
These days her life revolves around her family.
“We camp in the summer about every weekend,” she said. “I am just enjoying my granddaughters. They are the love of my life.”
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