‘Fight like a ninja warrior girl’
Boardman woman argued against cancer diagnosis
Editor’s note: Local breast cancer survivors are sharing their stories on the Health pages throughout October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
BOARDMAN — Paula Caldwell argued with her doctors when she was first told that the lump they found in her breast was cancerous.
She was used to finding lumps due to battling fibrocystic breast disease, a noncancerous disease that gives breast tissue a lumpy texture. She was used to feeling lumps due to the multiple biopsies and aspirations that left her breasts riddled with scar tissue.
Each biopsy came back negative for cancer, and she believed the one they performed on a new lump discovered during her annual mammogram at the age of 63 in August 2011 would be no different.
“You know you have a problem when the doctor comes in and puts his hand on your shoulder and says, ‘Honey, look,'” Caldwell said, recalling the moment she was told the news. “I was devastated, I argued with them that it was just more scar tissue.”
Caldwell was used to being in a constant uphill battle when it comes to her health. In 2005, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She said that diagnosis was even more devastating than her Stage I triple negative breast cancer diagnosis, one of the most rapidly growing forms of breast cancer with limited treatment options according to the American Cancer Society.
Despite the disease’s grim prognosis, she was confident that she could beat this because she watched her mom do the same thing decades earlier.
“I watched my mom survive breast cancer at the young age of 44, and I knew that if she could beat it, so could I,” Caldwell said. “It was scary, but I got my wits about me and got my courage.”
While the cancer was still in stage I, the aggressive form of it caused her doctors to act quickly.
“I thought, well, it’s a small bit of cancer so I’ll be fine. But when you have cancer, you have cancer,” she said.
Surgeons performed two lumpectomies and a mastectomy before she started chemotherapy. She joined support groups and maintained her positive attitude which she said added to the group. She said her positive outlook is her way of regaining control over her life.
“The only thing I have control of is myself, I have no control over my Parkinson’s disease or breast cancer or now arthritis and cataracts,” Caldwell said.
“I only have control over how I respond to these maladies. Life is about choices, and I choose to fight these afflictions head on.”
Her decision to fight stayed true throughout her journey. When she lost her hair, she noticed discomfort when her bare scalp rubbed against her pillow at night.
Rather than growing complacent, she came up with a solution. She made a pink satin pillowcase and embroidered it with a pink ribbon. The relief she received was remarkable, so she made them for the other patients in her group. She decided to extend her outreach and began making them for patients in other hospitals and donated them anonymously. This year, she’s making even more to donate.
“I didn’t do it for the credit, but I think helping others helps you feel better,” Caldwell said.
Now at the age of 73, Caldwell is entering her tenth year of her breast cancer diagnosis, making this year’s appointment the one where she finds out whether or not she’s in remission.
Most cancer diagnosis requires five years of being cancer-free before being declared to be in remission, but triple
negative breast cancer requires ten due to its rapid growth.
Caldwell took her health into her own hands and continues to do so by staying active and staying positive, both of which she said contributed to her ability to fight her maladies.
Caldwell said that women have to be their own advocates when it comes to their health, and she urges women to stay up to date on exams. The busyness of life nearly made her skip her annual exam in 2011 which would have made it impossible to catch the cancer as early as they did.
She wants women in similar situations to her to fight for their life and their future.
“Be strong, and don’t give in. Fight like a girl — a ninja warrior girl,” Caldwell said.