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Breast cancer survivor: 'Without hair, I really didn't feel very girly'

By BY J.R. ORTEGA - JRORTEGA@VICAD.COM
Oct. 21, 2009 at 5:21 a.m.

Sulema Aquillion applies make up during a recent local support group meeting at Citizens Health Plex for women who have breast cancer.

BREAST FRIENDS

Where: Citizens HealthPlex, 9406 Zac Lentz Parkway

When: 7 p.m. every third Thursday of the month.

Contact: Wendi DuVall, 361-572-5196

The women are from all walks of life; each carrying a different scar from the same occurrence.

They carry on, sharing stories, laughs and plenty of jokes as though they are best friends.

Truth is, they are Breast Friends, a local breast cancer support group founded in April 2007.

Among them is newbie Gayle Franklin, who dons a pink hat littered with breast cancer survivor objects.

Her 66-year-old face appears tired, yet radiant and positive.

It's the 12 rounds of chemotherapy she's gone through since March that have made her hair vanish and left her nails lifted and faded.

She was diagnosed in March.

"Without hair, I really didn't feel very girly," Franklin said, adding that earrings have helped her keep her femininity the past couple months.

The pink ribbon-shaped earrings dangle from her earlobes.

Three pink bracelets overpower the hospital bracelet she left on.

She's determined to beat cancer, she says.

"I'd rather be numb than dead," Franklin said as she touched her fingers, which have developed neuropathy.

Franklin found she had breast cancer after she felt a lump in her breast while taking a shower.

Her curiosity took her to an oncologist, who performed several ultrasounds, biopsies and MRIs.

Eventually she got the call - she had lobular breast cancer.

It wasn't bad when she was undergoing the chemotherapy, she said.

It was the day later when she had to get groceries: Where she felt she would not be able to make the walk back to the car.

Despite the experience, she pulled through.

"My faith and the people who treated me made me feel like it was going to be treatable," Franklin said, flashing a smile.

On Monday, Franklin took her last major step in her cancer journey - she had a double mastectomy.

She is not seeking reconstruction, she said.

"I don't want to be on the operating table longer than I have to," she said. "I'm hoping after my surgery, I can just get back up on my feet and do the things I loved to do."

Prior to being diagnosed, Franklin served as the Cancer Aid and Research Chairman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4146.

Due to her chemotherapy, she has become less involved, but still does all she can, she said.

The earrings that ring hope in her ears are something that the VFW is selling.

Though she sometimes hurts and is still battling the cancer, she passes on that hope to others, donating breast cancer hope memorabilia to others at her chemotherapy center.

"I think they're really neat," Franklin said about the earrings.

Franklin beams hope for others also battling cancer.

Don't expect her to say that, though.

She just knows that others have inspired her to keep on going, she said.

"They were very honest with me about all the things that might happen," she said about the people she's met along her so far short, but trying, journey.

Despite giving to others who are also suffering with her in the battle against cancer, Franklin said her message is clear.

"It's important to follow through with your doctor," she said. "Have your routine mammogram."

The women in the room continue to laugh and share their stories.

Some are receiving makeovers from the local American Cancer Society.

They are being taught how to apply makeup and look good and feel better during their battle.

Franklin is one of them. She has received a makeup kit.

"I don't use makeup much," she said, cracking a smile.

Foods, many which were pink to honor breast cancer survivors and the awareness month, line the tables.

The group of about 20 women eat some foods and learn about newer survivors and people in the Crossroads battling the disease.

One woman talks about how she had her mastectomy on Halloween Day.

"I was going to write trick-or-treat on my boob," she said, having a sense of humor about the serious disease.

Regardless the group of women, all at different stages of their recovery, laughed.

The camaraderie made Franklin, and other women who are just embarking on the journey, feel comfortable, Franklin said.

To pull through the disease, you have to have a sense of humor and march forward, and that's what the group does, she said.

"If you know everything that could happen to you, then when all the bad stuff doesn't happen to you, you feel pretty good," she said.

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