Beyond Stage IV

Friday, November 6, 2009
Johnnie Taber of Sikeston is a Stage IV breast cancer survivor.

Johnnie Taber was losing strength with each passing day. Getting out of bed became a struggle. Putting makeup on and combing her hair required more energy than she could muster. After work, she'd come home and spend the rest of her evening asleep on the couch.

It was her swollen and discolored right breast that bothered her the most, though.

The 65-year-old Sikeston woman knew something was terribly wrong but didn't want to admit it.

"I'd never been sick in my life," she says. "The only time I'd ever been to a doctor was to have my two children."

It was her children who finally intervened and told her she had to go to the hospital.

"They looked at me and said, 'Mom, we're either taking you to the Emergency Room or we're calling an ambulance.'" She agreed to go after admitting to them that she thought she was dying.

That night, in her room at Southeast Missouri Hospital, Taber remembers waking up and touching the sides of the bed just to make sure she was still alive. The next morning, she was taken to see Roberto Martinez, MD, of Hematology /Oncology Associates of Southeast Missouri Hospital.

He told her the news she had been expecting all along: Taber had Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

"He didn't make a big production out of it or anything," she says. "He just looked me dead in the eye and said, 'You're going to get through this'".

Taber started her chemotherapy once a month for six months at Southeast and says she could feel her strength and energy coming back after each session. Even after losing her hair due to treatments, she kept an upbeat attitude and continued getting ready in the mornings like she always did.

"I promised God that if he took care of my insides, I'd take care of the outside," she says. "A lot of it is attitude. If I look healthy, it makes me feel healthy."

Dr. Martinez also remains hopeful.

"She is responding well," he says, "and because of good communication and rapport between doctor and patient, she knows what to expect and how to deal with potential side effects. Once she accepted her diagnosis and the treatment plan, she put her body and energy to make the best of the situation and not be defeated or discouraged by it."

Today, Taber says she feels the best she's ever felt. Her strength is back, meaning she now has the energy for her five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"I feel better now than before I had cancer," she says. "I'm a happier person after going through this. I enjoy my life more now."

Taber attributes her recovery to her faith in God and the support she received from Dr. Martinez.

"I've only cried two times [since being diagnosed]. After finding out, I came home and made up my mind that I would get through this. Dr. Martinez always told me to not give up. He's a miracle worker. It's reassuring to know that there are people like him out there who care about you."

Taber says her friends and co-workers always compliment her on how healthy and happy she looks.

"Sometimes they'll start worrying if I say I'm tired," she adds. "I tell 'em I'm only human -- of course I get tired! People get scared with all the cancer stories they hear, but I feel great."

A smile crosses her face as she thinks about the progress she's made and the life she has to look forward to.

"I tell 'em, 'Honey, if I'm on my death bed, then I'll be dancing on it.'"

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