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Cancer fight changes lives of Mayfield couple

BY TOM BERRY news@mayfield-messenger.com

MAYFIELD -- Fighting for life against potentially deadly cancer is something Mayfield residents Vickie and Jim Baker know a lot about.

Vickie recently suffered a four-year battle against breast cancer. During that time, Jim learned a hard lesson in what it takes to provide support for a cancer patient.

But it was a lesson both needed to learn.

Just this year, the tables turned. Jim was diagnosed with prostate cancer and Vickie became the caretaker.

Vickie's cancer battle started in October 2010.

"I noticed a slight physical change in my left breast," she said. "I immediately contacted my gynecologist and within three days I was at Lourdes hospital having a mammogram and ultrasound."

Both tests were normal, but her doctor, Dr. Daniel Howard, suggested a biopsy.

Four days later, Vickie received the newsâ ¦she had breast cancer.

"I received the diagnosis that changes your life," she said.

The diagnosis was followed up soon afterward with an MRI that turned out even worse than expected.

"Cancer and or pre-cancer cells were evident throughout the breast," she said.

Howard, in consultation with oncologist Dr. Charles Winkler, advised a complete mastectomy as the only option.

Vickie's operation took place in December 2010. It included the removal of five lymph nodes; cancer was found in four of them. About a week later, 15 more nodes were removed.

"Thankfully, cancer was only in one, however 14 healthy lymph nodes were removed. That, (along) with 33 radiation (treatments) led to the development of lymphedema," Vickie said.

On December 20, she received a complete report.

"I actually had two kinds of cancer, one inside and another outside the ducts," Vickie said. "I also had a gene called HER2, a mutation that causes this breast cancer to be more aggressive than others. My cancer was classified as Stage 3Aâ ¦high grade."

Preparation for treatment included full body scans, an MUGA heart test and installation of a port for chemotherapy. Treatments included medications and carboplation (a chemotherapy drug) every three weeks for a total of six.

Vickie lost her hair.

"I also took a drug by injection called Newlasta which tells the body to make more white-blood cells," she said. "I did not get this shot after the first treatment because of insurance refusal and I spent four days in the hospital. They did not refuse again."

Vickie said chemical treatments were followed by 33 radiation treatments on the left section of her chest and lymph area, at the direction of Dr. Peter Locken.

By January 2012, all treatment was completed.

"But I learned the effects were not complete," Vickie said. "I went to a lymphedema massage therapist to address swelling in my left arm."

The swelling was due to lack of lymph nodes that were removed during her cancer treatments.

About five months later, she was diagnosed with cellulitis, a strep infection caused by stagnant fluids.

"This continues to be an issue for me," Vickie said.

In consideration of her age and difficulty in chemotherapy treatment, she and her husband, Jim, decided that a prophylactic mastectomy of the right breast was the right thing to do.

The decision also came after a lot of prayer and with the advice of her doctors.

Her final reconstruction surgery took place in May 2014.

"All the procedures involved many hospital stays, serious infections, visits to the emergency room and even antibiotic therapy at home through a 'pic' line," Vickie said.

After almost four years, the couple's ordeal seemed to be over.

However in the summer of 2016, she says she had to learn what her husband had learned during her cancer crisis - the "caretaker" side of dealing with cancer.

"He was diagnosed in March 2016 with prostate cancer," Vickie said. "We spent nine weeks living in St. Louis while he was having proton radiation therapy. This time, I got to take care of him."

Because of their shared experience in fighting for life against cancer, both Vickie and Jim have become involved in Graves County Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society, which supported them both through the crisis.

While involved in Relay, Vickie says she has taken the "Survivors Walk" several times, has been a part of a fundraising team and has participated in several other team fundraising events.

She says the American Cancer Society was there to help during her cancer experience.

"The ACS was the first to start to answering questions about how to deal with my new reality," she said. "It provided valuable advice about personal care and even provided wigs."

Vickie said she and Jim stayed at ACS's Hope Lodge, a home-away-from-home for families with members suffering from cancer, this year for nine weeks free of charge while Jim was having radiation treatments.

On Nov. 16, Vickie will celebrate six years since her diagnosis and is proud to be a cancer survivor.

"I give thanks to God, my medical team, my husband, family and friends that I am a cancer survivor."

Vickie said she recommends that everyone do their research on cancer so they would know the symptoms. She also recommends talking to survivors and creating a support team should one be needed. Choosing good doctors is also key.

But something else is even more important, she said.

"Be diligent. Don't give up."

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