Newton resident is own advocate in fight against breast cancer
PHOTO BY JENNA BURPEE
Linda O’Connor, a Newton resident, checks on the eggplant crop growing in her backyard garden. O’Connor wasdiagnosed with Stage III breast cancer eight years ago. She credits a mammogram and the treatment she received atDana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston for saving her life.
By Laura Paine/Staff Writer
Wicked Local NewtonPosted Sep 28, 2010 @ 03:37 PM Newton —
Newton resident Linda O’Connor always tells people that if they have to get cancer, theyshould get breast cancer, because doctors have gotten so good at treating it. Eight years afterher battle with Stage III breast cancer, she credits a mammogram and the Dana-Farber CancerInstitute with saving her life.O’Connor, 63, enjoys riding her bike to her job at Roxbury Community College, where sheworks to make accommodations for students with disabilities and teaches two classes abouthow to be a college student, as well as tending to her backyard garden where she grows corn,tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. She was 54 years old when she was diagnosed with anaggressive form of breast cancer.“I found out from a mammogram, which is what makes me so testy that the latest thing saysthat it doesn’t help get the treatment,” O’Connor said. “How do you get the treatment unlessyou know? I had a good-sized tumor, and some of the experts couldn’t find it because of theway it was situated. I’m glad I did a mammogram.”She had a lumpectomy, the nodes under her arm removed, and two rounds of bothchemotherapy and radiation. O’Connor said her first doctor “would do what he could,” butdid not want a lot of questions, which she said was fine for some people, but she wanted toknow what was happening with her treatment.“I was numb by having it in general,” she said. “I was really angry with [my first hospitaland] being dismissed as Linda O’Connor. You don’t have much control. You’re healthy oneday, and the next day they tell you that you better do this. You have lost so much control, andI needed to have some input into this and to be treated like me, not like a breast cancerperson.”O’Connor said that her surgeon removed all of the nodes under her arm because he wassure of the kind of cancer she had, which left her with lymphedema, a disease that causeslocalized fluid retention and tissue swelling. A physical therapist she worked with told hershe should not wash windows, among other household activities. O’Connor’s husband,Maurice O’Connor, said he was afraid after the surgery and he was told that his wife hadStage III cancer.“My thing was a little bit of anxiety,” he said. “But I knew that the treatment has beenpretty good and increasing. When the surgeon was telling me after that it was Stage III, theworst-case scenario, that was very unsettling.”O’Connor credits her husband for being strong throughout the treatment, and said she doesnot believe there is enough support for husbands who go through the course of the illness andtreatment with their wives.“Can you imagine laying there in bed next to somebody who is all bandaged up and cryingsometimes,” she asked, “It’s hard to see somebody you love going through something likethat.”O’Connor made the decision that if she were to die, the obituary would not say she “diedafter a long battle with…”“I wasn’t going to give cancer that much of me,” she said. “I didn’t want to go yet. I wantedto grow old with my husband. I didn’t want to miss being an old lady with an old man. I think we’re reaching that time of our life now.”