Fighting cancer, fostering strength
Local woman balances breast cancer with fostering, adoption
Battling and defeating breast cancer is enough of a challenge in itself, but Butterfield woman Christi Eden was tasked with that and the challenge of serving multiple foster children and completing an adoption when her diagnosis was made in 2010.
Eden said one day, she noticed a lump on the upper portion of her right breast, and she knew she had to go to the doctor.
“I’m not a doctor girl, and that was my first mammogram,” she said. “I probably would not have gotten a mammogram if not for that lump.”
Eden went to Mercy in Cassville and said she knew not long after the test that something was wrong.
“I could tell things weren’t normal because the technician left and the radiologist came in right after the test,” she said. “He asked if I had heard of atypia hyperplasia, which is a precancerous lump, and I had because I was in college studying PE at the time. He said it was either that, or ductal carcinoma in situ, which is cancer in place.”
Eden then went to Springfield for more testing, including a diagnostic mammogram, a core needle biopsy and a lumpectomy.
“The most unnerving part of the core needle biopsy was that even though you were numbed and couldn’t feel anything, it sounded like a sewing machine,” she said. “That test was inconclusive, so I did the lumpectomy, and that’s when they gave the same diagnosis the Cassville doctor had made from the beginning.”
Eden said the fear of the cancer itself was not nearly as great as the fear she had for how it could affect her life at the time.
“I had six foster kids at the time, one of whom we were trying to adopt,” she said. “We’d had him for two years, since he was five months old, so we were his family. I was scared with my condition, the Children’s Division would take them away and not let us adopt. I had to disclose everything to them, and with a good prognosis from my doctor and me
updating them with what was going on, the children were allowed to stay.”
And stay, they did. The child Eden had hoped to adopt was approved for adoption two weeks before Eden underwent a mastectomy to remove both breasts.
“My doctor recommended radiation, but the first thing I asked was if a mastectomy was an option,” Eden said. “Radiation was five or six days per week and I had 5 million kids, so I didn’t have the time for that. I just wanted to get it done and over with. ‘I don’t want to be a repeat customer,’ was what I told the doctor.”
Having DD size breasts, Eden said she was recommended by the doctor to talk with a plastic surgeon about reconstruction, something she originally did not want.
“The doctor said he thought I might regret it,” Eden said. “And he asked what my husband thought, to which I wondered what his opinion had anything to do with it. But, the doctor got me thinking about it. I had never woken up without breasts before, so I doubted myself and how I would feel.”
Eden had expanders put in, which would pave the way for a later reconstruction, but they did not last.
“People think when a woman gets reconstruction, she has these great, perfectly-formed breasts, and that’s not true,” she said. “There is scarring still, and they have to tattoo the nipples on, and they would not be any bigger than a C.”
Eden’s surgery took six hours when it would normally take a little over three, and she had complications for months after the procedure.
“I had to keep having skin cut and restitched because it would turn gray and die,” she said. “Finally, I decided since I didn’t want reconstruction from the beginning, I went back and made an appointment to have the expanders removed. After months of complications, I did that and was healed in two weeks.”
The work had still left Eden with wrinkled, pocked skin, which she also wanted fixed.
“I asked them to remove everything and just give me smooth skin, but they didn’t because I was under and they didn’t know if I’d want to try reconstruction again later,” Eden said. “So, I had to go back, and they finally just smoothed the area over.”
Eden said her insurance would pay for bras that gave the appearance of breasts, but she was not interested.
“I don’t think I need to wear something to make other people feel comfortable,” she said.
During the May to November time period in 2011 when Eden was battling cancer, there were about a dozen people in her home.
“With our kids and the foster kids we had, there were 12, then there were four more foster kids who were there only a few days or a week,” Eden said. “Many of them were under 4 years old, and a couple were under a year.”
These days, Eden and her husband, Jim, continue to foster, hosting more than 50 children at their home over the past 10 years.
“We have eight kids of our own now, and hopefully nine if we get to adopt another we are trying to get done,” she said. “Our youngest is 5, and our oldest is 35. I wanted to adopt for years, because we could not have any more of our own, but I was worried about the Children’s Division. Then, there were two kids from our church who were taken into custody, and the Children’s Division asked if we could take them. They had lived here off and on anyway because of their situation, so we went through the process and became foster parents.
“Just about 20 or 30 minutes after we were official foster parents, the Children’s Division called and asked if we could take this 5-month-old, and he’s the one we adopted right before my surgery. His mom was traveling from Louisiana and came through Missouri, and he was picked up here. God has sewn our family together from all over the place, because that’s the case with three of ours.”
Eden said although there are certain things she misses, about her life before cancer, namely the breasts she had, she has no regrets and would not wish the cancer away.
“During the time I was diagnosed, I felt sort of enlightened, whereas now I find myself getting frustrated more easily,” she said. “In one of my college classes, there was this example where the government was supposed to build this thing in 10 years, and a guy from the private sector built it in two. When they asked how he did it, he said, ‘I’ve been in war, and that changes you. I hear ticking.’
“That really hit me. The No. 1 thing I’ve realized is that everyone’s clock is ticking, and what happened to me could happen to anybody. I appreciate life a lot more. My friends would come over and boo hoo, and that irritated me because it was my cancer and I wasn’t crying. I felt people were being selfish about my cancer, and after that I pretty much lost my filter. The whole world should hear the ‘ticking,’ but only a few people do.”
Eden said for women who find themselves in her situation, there are a few important things to do.
“Be honest and ask questions,” she said. “Ask hard questions. Also know that the majority of women do not get reconstruction, even though doctors always push to. If you get implants, you’re not able to get a mammogram, so if the cancer comes back behind the implant, you’d be out of luck.”
Eden said one of the best things about not having reconstruction is the lack of need for a bra.
“It’s freeing,” she said. “I sometimes wish I still have the breasts I had, but I don’t wish I never had cancer, because I learned a lot about myself.”
Another freeing aspect of beating cancer is her family’s willingness to travel now, especially on cruise ships.
“I always wanted to go on one, but my husband never would,” Eden said. “But, when you look at him and say, ‘But I have cancer,’ things change. So he agreed to go on one and now he’s hooked. We’ve been on four, and we have another one coming up. We’re a lot less inhibited than I used to be.”