While October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Nicki Blythe (right) of Oneonta does not feel she needs to wait to share her story. She understands that time is of the essence and hopes it will reach someone delaying a check-up or mammogram.
Blythe knows about breast cancer. She knows the shock of being diagnosed after her first routine mammogram. She knows how devastating the diagnosis can be. Shock, fear, anger, gratitude… Blythe has experienced all of these.
At 45, Blythe is recovering from a Jan. 12 double mastectomy. The hospital stay, endless doctor visits, pain, frustration, and good (and bad) days are fresh in her mind. While she is thankful to be alive and past the surgery, Blythe continues to take one day at a time. She still has a long way to go before she can feel somewhat normal again.
This is not the first time Blythe has conquered cancer. During her first routine mammogram at age 40, a lump was discovered. She was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) breast cancer.
With this type of cancer, cells lining the ducts have changed to cancer cells but have not spread into the nearby tissue. Because it is non-invasive or pre-invasive, nearly all women diagnosed with this type of stage zero cancer can be cured. Blythe had a lumpectomy, radiation treatments, and five years of medication to take.
Blythe endured the daunting task of daily medication for five years. She gained custody of two young children after raising her own. The adoption is finalized for one child and in process for the youngest child. Blythe also lost a teenage son. Despite everything, she remained grateful. She had strong faith, and her support system rallied around her. She was alive.
In the summer of 2020, Blythe began having some issues with an area on one of her areolas. She had a place that stayed irritated and would not heal. While in the shower one day, the area began to bleed. Bandages and trying to help the area heal were to no avail. The area had also begun protruding a bit.
Because of blood work completed a few years back and because a mammogram revealed nothing, Blythe did not believe she had breast cancer again. The previous blood work revealed that the cards were in her favor of never getting breast cancer again. Surely it was something else.
Since Blythe had a fat graft procedure to help keep her breasts symmetrical during the initial breast cancer treatment, she thought the protrusion and irritation might have been from the fat graft. She contacted her plastic surgeon in November for a check-up when the area would not heal and was more painful.
The plastic surgeon ordered a biopsy. It was positive – stage three breast cancer. Once again, the emotions took over. Blythe admits she even had a moment of fear about dying. It was all so overwhelming. Still she had faith and adopted a spirit of, “I’m going to get through this.”
Although all tests revealed the cancer was localized, it was now November and five months since she began having tenderness and irritation on her breast. Decisions had to be made without delay. Consultations revealed a double mastectomy would be the best option for Blythe.
On Jan. 12, Blythe underwent the procedure. The first time she looked in the mirror, she was overcome with emotion. Part of her womanhood was taken from her, but she knew it was best and could begin the painful reconstruction process.
Blythe will undergo chemotherapy beginning Feb. 16. Doctors have told her she will definitely lose her hair. Having a close friend, Robin Cook Handy, who is also her hairdresser, Blythe has chosen to have her head shaved before she begins chemotherapy. Dealing with clumps of hair falling out daily is just too much for Blythe to handle.
Thankfully Handy will come to Blythe’s home Feb. 14 for the hair cut. Blythe plans to have some friends and family there for support. She has even decided to make the event somewhat festive with gift bags, t-shirts, and bracelets.
It will be difficult and this will take a huge emotional toll on Blythe, but she is trying to remain positive and upbeat. She has researched options such as head dressings and maybe even wigs to help ease the pain of losing her hair.
Handy wanted to help in some other way. She has created a fundraiser to help with costs associated with more doctor visits, the hospital stay, and being off work.
Anyone who wishes to donate may contact Handy at 256-393-1845 or donate to Blythe’s Paypal account at paypal.me/NickiBlythe. One donor will be chosen Feb. 14 to receive a gift package (free shampoo, cut, style, and conditioning treatment; an eyebrow and lip waxing; and a basket of high quality products for the winner’s hair type). Blythe says accepting help has been hard on her pride, yet she remains grateful.
After chemotherapy, Blythe will be reminded of her battle as she will have to take daily medication for 10 years. It will also be a reminder that if her cancer ever comes back, it will likely be stage four and that is something she is hoping never occurs.
In her journal dated Jan. 28, Blythe wrote, “Thinking of how far I have come since surgery on Jan. 12. God is good. Still have a journey to go through – starting chemo on Feb. 16.
“This has been the worst/best thing I’ve ever physically and spiritually been through. It’s brought me closer to the Lord and I feel Him with me so closely. The pain and body changes I have gone through were pretty hard to endure and look at. I’m healing and feeling better each day. I found a person who lives in me that I had forgotten about.”
Looking back, Blythe knows she should have seen a doctor sooner regarding the nipple irritation, but she kept working, kept on being a wife and mother, and continued with life. She cannot change her past actions.
What Blythe CAN change is to be an advocate, an encourager, a prayer partner, and a supporter for anyone who needs it. Cancer doesn’t discriminate, and Blythe shares her story simply as an encouragement to others. She pleads with anyone having concerns to have them addressed now.
Don’t wait months like she did. Don’t succumb to excuses. Early detection is vital. Time is of the essence, and it can mean the difference between life and death.