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‘Mommy, are you coming home?’

Austintown woman talks to son about breast cancer

Cindy Kramer of Austintown is pictured at the Sept. 28 meeting of FOCUS — Friends Offering Compassionate Understanding Support — breast cancer support group in Canfield.

Editor’s note: Local breast cancer survivors will tell their stories on The Vindicator Health page every Tuesday in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

AUSTINTOWN — One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with breast cancer for Cindy Kramer was how to reassure her 6-year-old son.

“Every time I went to the hospital for a treatment, he would ask, ‘Mommy, are you coming home?'” Kramer said.

Kramer’s breast cancer journey began in July 1995, when she was 39. Now retired, at the time, she was employed by Ohio Commerce Center warehouses in Lordstown, contracted out to the Packard warehouse, where she took care of shipping manifests and tracked equipment going in and out of the warehouse.

Even though she was younger than 40, the age medical professionals recommended beginning mammogram screenings, Kramer believed in self-examination.

“I found the one (tumor) on my left breast, up high, near my neck,” Kramer said.

She made an appointment with her doctor to have it checked. A mammogram was ordered. “He found the other one (tumor) in my other breast, underneath.”

She was scheduled for a bilateral — or double — mastectomy to remove both breasts, a procedure that’s done when a lumpectomy — removing part of the breast — is not enough.

To complicate matters, her surgery was delayed a week and a half when she had an asthma attack on the operating table.

“I had the double mastectomy four days after my son’s sixth birthday,” she said.

“I was at Northside Hospital for the surgery and Southside for the chemotherapy,” Kramer said. “I had chemotherapy for six months. I had one bad incident of low blood count and ended up in the hospital for a week. Then I had to go to the hospital before work for a week to get a shot to help with the blood count.

“(My son) was still young enough to not understand that mom was sick. It was hard on him in kindergarten,” she said. “My son was upset each time I had a doctor’s appointment and asked if I was going to come home. All I could say was, ‘I hope so.’

As happens, Kramer’s hair fell out during her chemotherapy treatments. “My son kept rubbing my head. ‘Is your hair coming back, Mommy?’ I told him yes, it would.

“When I would go to school, if I wore a turban, he could see the looks on the other kids’ faces and he didn’t know how to explain it to them. Fortunately, he had a teacher whose mother had breast cancer. She knew how to explain it to kids that age.”

Kramer started chemotherapy in August 1995 and finished on Dec. 23. “A nice Christmas present, right?”

She has been cancer-free since.

It was during one of her treatments that she saw pinned to a bulletin board a flyer for FOCUS — Friends Offering Compassionate Understanding Support. She called the number.

Twenty-seven years later, Kramer remains part of FOCUS. It’s important to support others through their breast cancer journeys, she maintains.

“We get them when they first get out of therapy,” she said.

The experiences and lessons learned from someone who has been through the battle bolsters breast cancer patients, letting them know that they are not alone and that there is a rich life after cancer treatments, she said.

Kramer still believes in self-examination. After all, it saved her life.

Her advice: “Do your self-examinations and if you feel something, get it checked out as soon as possible.”

For more information, call 330 518-3788.

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