Realtor of the Year and Community Service Award winner Patsy Martin is part of a collective of area breast cancer survivors — “my bosom buddies,” she says — that sings the praises of the Carlton Breast Center at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — As she lay on the operating table, preparing to undergo a bilateral mastectomy, Patsy Martin offered up a prayer.
This is the third in five-part series focusing on individuals and doctors coping with cancer.
“I clearly remember telling God, ‘Lord, if I can’t continue to have a productive life after this, let something happen and I’ll come see you right now,’” Martin, a Realtor with Walden and Kirkland/Coldwell Banker, said.
Obviously God had further plans for Martin.
Dr. Chirag Jani: Advancement in cancer treatment offers hope CLICK HERE.
It took five mammograms in one year to finally find the lump that confirmed Martin’s breast cancer, and on Aug. 1, 2012, she underwent the bilateral mastectomy at age 73. A little more than a year later, Martin, the area’s 2007 Realtor of the Year and Albany State University’s 2011 Community Service Award winner, is back at work selling houses. And she has the energy and enthusiasm of people half her age.
“When Dr. (Chirag) Jani told me I had to have a second surgery, I said, ‘Dr. Jani, do you realize I’m 73 years old? Can I go through a second surgery within a week?’” Martin said. “Dr. Jani smiled and told me, ‘Your age may be 73, but your body doesn’t know it. You have the body of someone who’s 60.’”
Martin admits to being a bit aggravated when she got the call to come back for a fifth mammogram over the span of a year.
“They kept saying, ‘Come back in three months,’” she said. “I told them I had houses to sell. I wasn’t that concerned about breast cancer because no one in my family had had it and I did all the right things (to prevent the disease).”
But in July 2012, the technician who read Martin’s fifth mammogram scheduled an ultrasound to get a better look at what she said was “dense breast tissue.” The radiologist read the ultrasound on a Thursday and told Martin he wanted her to see a surgeon the next Tuesday.
“I’d sold Dr. John Bennett a house, so I called his wife and told her I had a possible malignancy that John was supposed to look at on Tuesday,” Martin said. “She told John, and he said, ‘No, you’re not waiting until Tuesday. Come see me at 9:30 in the morning.’ From that point on, it was a whirlwind. But the care and communication I received was unbelievable.”
Jani met with Martin, her daughter, Missy Funderburk, and her daughter-in-law, Layne Cox, on the oncologist’s day off. He took “around three hours and 15 minutes” taking Martin through the Carlton Breast Center and explaining treatment procedures.
“He told me, after showing me the amazing facilities they have, ‘If you have to have cancer, you picked the best kind to have,’” Martin remembers.
Martin underwent a lumpectomy on the following Monday, and she said by Wednesday she’d started to feel better about her situation. That’s when she got a call from Bennett.
“He said the pathology report (on the tumor that was removed) indicated it was larger than originally projected,” Martin said. “Then he told me he didn’t feel they’d gotten all the cancer. They scheduled me for a bilateral mastectomy on the following Tuesday.
“I just shut down. I couldn’t hear what (Bennett) was saying I was so traumatized. I know he told me if I didn’t have the (mastectomy) I’d be under the microscope of radiologists the rest of my life. I just said, ‘Here’s my daughter’ and handed the phone to Missy. Missy talked with John, then looked me and said, ‘Mom, we can do this.’”
Martin said she found “an incredible peace” on the Sunday before her surgery when she was told her Sunday school class at First Methodist Church would be conducting a prayer vigil for her from the time she went into pre-op to the time her surgery ended.
“Dr. Jani told me after the surgery things looked fine, but he had to send tissue away for genetic testing,” Martin said. “That process is kinda like a game of Russian roulette in that they have to consider 29 genetic components. If the score comes back 0 to 10, it means you’re an estrogen blocker and are fine. If it’s 20-30, they have to do additional testing. If it’s 30 or above, chemo is a guarantee.
“Two weeks later, Dr. Jani’s office called and had me come in. Missy, Layne and I were sitting in his office, holding hands and praying when he stuck his precious head in the door and said, ‘I’ll be back in a minute with some great news.’ My score was a 9.”
Martin now proudly sings the praises of the Phoebe Cancer Center and the Carlton Breast Institute, as well as the oncology team at Phoebe.
“So many of us sit around and complain about our community and throw (verbal) rocks all over the place, even when we’re sitting on some real jewels,” she said. “The Phoebe breast cancer center is one of those jewels.”
Martin said her recovery, especially once the “dreaded drains” required were removed, has been amazingly rapid. Along with her team of doctors and the Phoebe Cancer Center, she credits the love and support of her family and friends as vital to that process. She’s now part of a network of fellow breast cancer survivors — my “bosom buddies,” she calls them — that provides support for each other.
“About a week and a half after my surgery, I was so frustrated with those blasted drains that I wrapped myself up in a giant pity party,” Martin said. “My family was there, and Missy called up (fellow breast cancer survivor) Pat Tricquet. I heard her say, ‘Ms. Pat, Mama’s acting all crazy.’ Pat came over, took me back into my bedroom and said, “You need to get a grip. You’re recovering from an aggressive cancer and you’re not having to go through chemo. You need to quit fussing about those drains and be thankful.’
“I sat up and behaved.”
When the drains were removed, Martin enjoyed her first real meal since her surgery.
“I ordered a big filet,” she laughed. “Someone said it was like the Last supper, but I said, ‘No, this is the first supper.’
“I guess the only time after that that I had an issue was the first time I spent the night alone. Everyone had to go back to their lives, and I had a little struggle knowing I was in the house alone. But after that first night, everything’s been fine.”
Martin gradually eased back into her work schedule, a half-day at first and finally back into full swing. Always a meticulous planner, she’s become more of a moment-to-moment person.
“I still make my plans, but I’m less worried now about what I’m going to do in February,” Martin said. “I take time now to appreciate today and to be thankful for the people in my life.”