Cindy McCulloch always had a yearly mammogram and had no family history of breast cancer. But, in October 2004, she was diagnosed.
“I’m a survivor, absolutely,” she said. “I decided head-on to get through this.”
It started with a routine mammogram. When McCulloch was called back for another she was nervous, but went. Further images and an ultrasound revealed two lumps.
McCulloch had a lumpectomy, and days later a biopsy revealed that she had cancer.
“My world fell apart,” McCulloch recorded in a log she kept of all her procedures, doctor visits and medications.
“It’s hard to believe it’s going to happen to you because it’s always going to happen to someone else,” McCulloch said.
McCulloch began a battle that lasted around two years. After the lumpectomy, she learned she had stage two breast cancer.
It was a fast-growing kind of cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes, requiring aggressive treatment. McCulloch had three surgeries in a period of about three weeks.
Following the surgeries were six chemotherapy treatments, one every three weeks.
“My life revolved around it every three weeks,” McCulloch said.
Though she was given anti-nausea pills, they often lost effect after a few days. The effect of the chemo became a sort of three-week-long routine of knowing when she would become sick.
McCulloch was once told during a treatment that the medication she was receiving was so strong that, were it to touch her skin, it would burn her.
After chemo, McCulloch had a break of a few weeks before starting 33 radiation sessions.
As with most people, the chemo did cause her to lose her hair. The decision to shave her head came after she cleaned the drain three times during one shower.
Her husband, Charlie, was supportive of the decision.
“She’s got the cutest little bald head,” he said.
McCulloch had three wigs, and she and her husband joked about him being with three different women.
McCulloch said her family was supportive 100 percent of the way through her battle with cancer. She says Charlie also supported her shopping habit.
They still took family vacations, and McCulloch was encouraged to live as much of a normal life as possible. She continued to work from home 30 hours a week.
“The thought is, what you’re going through is short-lived,” McCulloch said.
She stayed on a treatment drug called herceptin for months after radiation. The drug has negative effects on the heart, and McCulloch stayed on it for as long as she could, until her heart’s abilities fell to 50 percent of their normal capacity.
McCulloch has no problem talking about her fight with breast cancer. For her, talking about it was a way to get through it.
“You need a support group. If I hadn’t been able to talk, it would’ve just eaten me up,” she said.
“There’s a lot of support groups, and you can’t be afraid to use it,” Charlie said.
Charlie and Cindy both said that asking a lot of questions was key to understanding doctor’s appointments and procedures. Cindy often typed and printed off lists of questions to bring to the doctor.
“You’ve got to take control of your own situation. If you’re not getting an answer, ask another doctor or another nurse,” Charlie said.
Cindy said the hardest part of her journey was waiting for test results.
“That’s enough to kill you,” she said.
Cindy said the experience has changed her daily outlook.
“Life’s very short. I don’t like to argue with people. You take every day for what you can get and live it to the fullest,” she said.
Cindy and Charlie have two sons and live in Crosslake. They enjoy boating and are members of the Central Lakes Corvette Club.
She continues her regular checkups and remains on a preventative cancer drug. It’s designed to keep her cells from attaching to any remaining cancer cells that could be in her body.
Cindy has now been cancer-free for seven years.