Monett resident free of breast cancer for 37 years

Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Phyllis Long, a breast cancer survivor of 37 years, said she was devastated to learn of her diagnosis and sympathizes with women undergoing treatment for the disease today. Melonie Roberts/Cassville Democrat

Phyllis Long has had to battle other cancers since

Phyllis Long remembers receiving the news of having breast cancer as coming during “a dark time.”

“My husband, Dale, died in 1975, and my kids, except for my youngest, Danny, were grown and off,” she said. “Then, I found a lump under my arm in 1980, and my doctor said it was just from my deodorant. I didn’t think anything much of it. I changed deodorants, but it kept getting bigger. It didn’t hurt, but I knew it was there.”

Her co-worker at the Speed Queen laundromat in Monett, Claudia Nowland, asked her about it.

“I told her it was getting bigger and she told me to make an appointment with a doctor in Springfield and that she would take me, “ Long said. “So we went.”

Three or four days later, Long was at home, by herself, when the phone rang.

“They just told me right over the phone I had cancer,” she said. “It was stage three.”

The news shocked Long, who doesn’t remember hanging up the phone. What she does remember is her neighbor running over when she heard Long hollering.

“It was very upsetting,” she said. “My neighbor called all the kids home. Danny just about smothered me. He was only 13 when his dad passed, and he was with him. Danny simply did not want me out of his sight.”

Within a week of receiving the news, Long was having surgery to remove her affected breast.

“They didn’t know as much about it back then,” she said. “They just removed my whole breast. They said the cyst was enclosed in a ‘pocket’ that didn’t rupture during surgery. I didn’t need to have chemo or radiation.”

Just a few years later, Long started having trouble breathing. A long-time smoker, she knew something was wrong.

“I went to the doctor and they found cancer in the lower lobe of my lung,” she said. “The day I went into surgery, I told my daughter I quit smoking. I think I kept that pack of cigarettes around for about five years. I never touched them.”

Her doctor knew she was going through withdrawal while she was still hospitalized.

“He came in and asked if I had quit, and I told him yes,” she said. “He said he could tell by the change in my demeanor. He put me on Xanax for a couple of months. But I tell you, if someone offered, I wouldn’t take a cigarette ever again.”

The cancer removed from he lung was also in a “pocket,” and did not rupture during surgery.

“Cancer doesn’t hurt, but it does different things to your body,” Long said. “People should not neglect their bodies.”

Again, Long went to a doctor when she started experiencing pain in her side.

“It was bladder cancer,” she said. “I’ve had it four times. The tumors grow on the lining of the bladder. If it gets ahold, you have problems. It can be really dangerous.”

Coming from a family with a high risk of hereditary predisposition to cancer — her mother and father both had it — Long is grateful for the excellent treatment she has received over the years.

“I’m really thankful,” she said. “But I must have an angel on my shoulder all the time.”

What bothers Long is people who don’t pay attention to their bodies when it is trying to tell them something.

“My granddaughter, she has a long history of family cancer,” Long said. “My grandson, Issac, was diagnosed with leukemia just a few days before his fourth birthday. He is a St. Jude’s success story. He’s 22 now, and works to raise money for St. Jude’s all the time. [Cancer] just keeps going in the family.”

Concerning her own numerous bouts with the disease, Long is honest.

“It’s devastating when you have something like this all the time,” she said. “You don’t know why it keeps happening.”

Long continually advocates for self exams among her family and friends.

“It’s troubling to hear of these young girls getting diagnosed,” she said. “They find it quicker these days. Mammograms are important, too. If I find a cyst or a lump, I make an appointment and ask the doctor for a mammogram.”

She said she and Issac have made a contract with each other.

“We’ve promised each other we are going to live to be 100,” Long said.

And, that is a vow she intends to keep.

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