Survivor Spotlight: Salley Crutchfield
Looking back over my 42 years of life, I realize how truly blessed I am. I’ve always tried to look at every situation as a challenge. Sometimes we don’t win, but even from that we gain strength and knowledge. There truly is a positive in every negative, the challenge is in being able to find it.
On February 26th, 2015, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. It didn’t seem real at first. I heard the doctor’s words but truly didn’t comprehend what he said. It’s that shock part of grief. I’ve experienced this many times in my past as I’m the parent of a deceased child. My children have always been the source of my strength, and I know I can get through most anything with them by my side. Having to witness my son pass away over a 10 day period really shook me down to my soul. It made me numb on the inside for a very long time. He was a very sweet, loving, and brave little boy. He lives in my heart always, and he continues to be a major source of my strength. His memory can get me through ANYTHING.
After mentally processing my diagnosis, I started seeing my doctors. I pretty much had an appointment every week for some sort of test, treatment, or examination. I took the tests and treatments and really started talking with my doctors. They guided me on what things I should be doing and the next steps I would be taking.
On March 31st, 2015, I had my breast cancer removed via double mastectomy. This was followed by immediate reconstruction. The overall surgical process took 12 hours. It involved 2 wonderful doctors, Dr. Brown Ekelado and Dr. Paul Syribeys. I’m not an expert on surgery, but based on the results as I see them they both did an excellent job. After 5 days in the hospital, I spent my next 5 weeks recovering at home. I will always have great memories of the hospital stay itself. My sister Amy and I were up at all hours of the night laughing at my mama – she was kinda snoring and talkin’ in her sleep. I don’t think either one of us got any sleep at all during the time I was in the hospital. It brought back so many childhood memories, and reinforced the love I have for my sister. A big thank you to Amy for everything she has done to both love and support me.
My wonderful employer allowed me to work from home during my recovery period, which kept me in a decent place financially. Once I finally got the okay from my doctor to go back to work, I found myself delighted to be sitting at my desk over in Macon. I love my work family whole heartedly – Angie, Ed, Anita, Sylvia, Benita, Rasheeda, and Shelby – you are all the greatest! And I have to specially mention my supervisor, Julie. She has lent me her ear on so many occasions during my journey – I both love and appreciate her.
Chemotherapy started on May 7th at the Coliseum Cancer Center in Macon. I can’t say enough good things about the staff there. My oncologist, Dr. Franc Wallace, is a great doctor. He supervised and followed my care thoroughly from day one, making sure that I received the best treatment possible for my cancer.
Chemotherapy treatment #2 followed on May 28th. Its side effects started wearing on my body, my hair started thinning, and the reality of what I’d been through really started kicking in.
I need to mention here that I have this wonderful little granddaughter that I’ve been blessed with. She is truly my life’s ray of sunshine. She gives me renewable strength that I didn’t know I possessed. She gives me lots of hugs and kisses that comfort me. She always says “I love you” – that reassures me that I am loved. She checks on my “boo-boos” and makes sure I’m okay. Thanks so much to Heath and Chelsey for allowing her to be a part of my recovery. Most of all thanks to them for understanding how much I need her in my life.
Due to some complications with my TRAM flap, I had to go back into the hospital for 3 days. This meant that my chemo was put on hold for another 3 months. Gail Brooks is my bestie. I never truly experienced an unconditional friendship with another person until I lucked out and met Gail. She has done so much for me during this fight – sweet gifts, cards, daily text messages, fundraisers, escorting me to Warner Robins when I was bleeding to death, walking with me in the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure, and so much more. I am beyond lucky to have her as my friend.
On August 27th chemo treatment #3 became a reality. This meant I was half way through my treatment. I was completely BALD and kinda liked it. No hair, don’t care!
September 17th marked the date of chemo treatment #4. Its side effects were a little worse, but I fought like hell. Failure was not an option, I was determined to succeed.
September 26th, 2015 was the date of the Susan G Komen Race for the Cure which was held at the Mercer University Campus in Macon, Georgia. I was still weak from chemo treatment #4, but I managed to complete the event. I was encouraged and helped by Gail Brooks, Randy and Bobette Prosser, Tonya Anderson, Jamie Gray, and Angie Edge. They cheered me on from beginning to end. It was a very emotional event for me. I hadn’t expressed much emotion since my diagnosis as I wanted to be strong for my family. I was so happy I experienced this with my friends, it will always mean the world to me.
October 8th marked chemo treatment #5. Holden and Mama were with me as I endured the 6 hour plus treatment. After I returned home I got a nice surprise – my mama chose to spend her 60th birthday with me. She lives several hours away and I hadn’t seen her since March. It was very nice sharing a birthday lunch with her.
My final chemo treatment (#6) went down on Thursday, October 29th. Thank you, Jesus! It all went well. It was somewhat bittersweet to have to say good bye to my wonderful chemo nurses. They took great care of me, but I have to admit that I was ready to ring that bell and then run like hell!
After completing chemotherapy and meeting with my oncologist, he advised me that he wanted me to meet with a radiation oncologist as part of my treatment plan. This shocked me because at first he’d told me no radiation would be needed after the mastectomy and chemotherapy. I was a little hesitant, so I met with Dr. Tripp Simpson and am truly happy that I did. He took a piece of paper and thoroughly explained my cancer to me. He wrote it out so I could fully see it. He gave me FACTS. At this point I finally realized that my cancer was actually Stage 3. Before my mastectomy it was thought to be Stage 2B, but after my surgery and the pathology reports it was found to be worse. I guess he saw the look of shock in my eyes when we were discussing my treatment, so he reassured me that it was Stage 3 from the beginning point of my treatment. More importantly, he convinced me that I was truly cancer free. He urged me not to dwell on the past and to look towards the future.
During my mastectomy surgery I had 2 lymph nodes that tested positive for cancer. They changed my need for radiation. The area they were removed from needed to be treated for any potential stray cancer cells. The way Dr. Simpson put it to me was that I either could walk out the door and have a 30% chance of the cancer returning or do the radiation and that chance would drop down to 5%. It was a no brainer as far as a choice as I’ve got so much to live for.
The daily weekday radiation treatments began on December 1 – I would get up and be at their office in Milledgeville when the doors opened. Afterwards I’d drive on to Macon and work the rest of the day. I completed my 28th regular treatment on January 11th. I then had my first boost treatment on January 13th, and my FINAL treatment on January 14th.
I have to give Dr. Simpson and his staff credit for being such an awesome team. They treated me with dignity and respect and did a most amazing job!
On April 18th I entered the hospital for my third and final surgery. This one was to fix some problem areas with my reconstruction and to have my port removed. I came home with lots of stitches and 3 drains, which meant I had to work from home for two additional weeks. I returned back to work on May 2nd.
I now am fully healed from my surgeries but am left with more than one or two battle scars. I’m actually kinda proud of these scars as I earned them in the fight for my life. I will always wear them proudly.
My current treatment plan includes 20mg of Tamoxifen and 37.5mg of Effexor for the next 10 years of my life. I’m okay with this. The Tamoxifen is my estrogen modulator and the Effexor controls the side effects of the Tamoxifen. I am seeing my oncologist for bloodwork and checkups every 3 months.
It’s all about surviving! I’m alive! I fought like a girl and I WON!
I want to close this by taking a moment to express my gratitude to my son, Holden. From my diagnosis onwards he has been my ROCK. He stood by me like no other. He attended all my chemotherapy treatments even though he’d had no sleep as he’d worked the entire night before. He always made sure I was home and okay after each of my treatments, and wouldn’t leave me until someone else was there with me. He texted me multiple times daily just to check how I was feeling and to tell me he loved me. He always asked what my doctors had to say and followed my progress. He used his own personal vacation time to see about his mama. He put me first over everything else and I am truly blessed to call him my son. I love you, Holden. I am so proud of you and the man you have become. Thanks so much for being my steadiness and for loving me thru all this.
My husband Clay is a very private person and he’s probably going to kill me for bringing him up. But, I must – he stole my heart in the 11th grade and it has belonged to him since. I love him like no other. We have endured some of the hardest hits a marriage can take over the past 20 years. Somehow we got thru it all and remain together to this day. I love you Clay, and look forward to many years of “us”.
In the end, we truly don’t know how strong we are until being strong is the ONLY option we have left. Please continue to support the fighters, admire the survivors, honor the taken, and NEVER EVER give up the hope for a cure!
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