When Lenora Woods’ husband had a stroke 10 years ago, she put all her focus on his care – and stopped thinking about her own health.
Then a mammogram in 2010, her first in years, showed an abnormality that turned out to be cancer.
After two surgeries and six weeks of radiation, the North Raleigh resident, 65, was declared cancer-free in October. On June 3, she will share her experience with others attending the National Cancer Survivors Day celebration at Rex Healthcare.
Staff writer Chelsea Kellner spoke to Woods last week about the importance of reaching out to others and of making your own health a priority. Responses have been edited for length.
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Q. What was your life like after your husband had a stroke?
Of course I was quite busy because of everything – I was all turned around, and I was busy caring for him. And I was still doing everything else too, working and doing everyday things like helping with my children and grandchildren.
I had always been a person that really kept up with everything with my health, but then with everything else, I slowly got out of the habit of doing the checkups I needed. Some of the more important things got pushed back.
Q. What happened after you finally got a mammogram years later?
Everything went fine, I thought – then they called me back and I had to have a biopsy. I ended up having a lumpectomy, and even after that, they wanted to make sure they had all of everything. I had two surgeries, and I did not have to take chemo, but I did have to have radiation.
It was tiring. It drains you. But the biggest thing for me was that even then, I continued to push myself to keep going, because I was afraid that if I stopped, that I would really stop completely.
Q. Were you surprised by the mammogram?
Really I was. I didn’t have any symptoms. I didn’t feel anything. It was so minute, six-tenths of a centimeter.
Q. What do you do differently now?
I go to the support groups. It’s good for you, because then you see other women in the same place that you are. It makes you realize that so many times, people aren’t willing to talk about what happened to them publicly. It is nothing to be ashamed of. If you share your experience with someone else, maybe you get someone to thinking, “I haven’t had a mammogram in a while, maybe I should get one.” Even if you’re a male, you might think, has my wife had a mammogram? Has my mother? It widens the network.
Q. Do you have advice for other women?
Don’t put yourself last all the time. It’s OK to be first. It is so important to get your regular checkups and mammograms.