The Central Virginian

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Moving on after breast cancer, a Mineral woman’s story of survival

Posted on Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 10:48 am

In late January of 1995, Cathy Portner was 38 years old, had a full-time job as an administrative assistant at North Anna Power Station and was caring for a four-year-old daughter and a sick seven-year-old son. He had just been diagnosed with osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone.

One day, while examining herself, she discovered a small pea-sized lump under her arm near her left breast.  Worried, she quickly scheduled an appointment with her family physician to get his opinion.

Cathy Portner decorates for Halloween.

Cathy Portner decorates for Halloween.

After checking the lump, Portner’s doctor recommended that she get a mammogram.  But when she had the test performed, the mammogram didn’t show anything on the film.

“He was pretty surprised,” said Portner.

The doctor then ordered an ultrasound. This time, the images showed the mass, prompting the doctor to order a biopsy.  In February, a day or two after the biopsy, Portner got the call – the  lump was malignant.  She would need surgery to remove it.

It’s difficult to describe how a woman feels after hearing that kind of diagnosis.

“You’re scared. You’re angry,” she said, “It’s like your whole world is turned upside down.”

After the lumpectomy, Portner had to go in for a second surgery—this time to find out whether the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.

Fortunately, it was good news—the cancer hadn’t spread beyond the breast.  The bad news—she would have to endure six weeks of radiation, six months of twice a month chemotherapy and a year of hormonal therapy.

All Portner could think was, “I don’t have time for this.”

Portner’s husband, Wes, along with family, friends and church family pitched in to help the busy mother while she underwent treatments—and she continued to work full-time and raise her young children.

“You felt like it was chaotic,” said Portner, whose days cycled around work, doctor’s appointments, radiation, cooking dinner and caring for her sick son.  “At the time, you do what you have to do.”

She drove to Richmond every morning for her 7:30 a.m. appointment with the radiation oncologist and once finished, would make the trek to Lake Anna to work at NAPS, where they were busy replacing a steam generator at the time.

When the radiation treatments were finally over, she scheduled her chemotherapy sessions on Fridays so that she would have the weekend to get over her nausea.  Family members and her husband took turns driving her for chemotherapy, as she was unable to drive afterward. Then it was back to work on Monday.

In the meantime, while she went through chemo, her family and church members took turns bringing meals to the family, which was a welcomed gift for Portner, as was help with cleaning around the house when needed.

To read the entire story, see the Oct. 17 edition of The Central Virginian.