In fighting the big ‘C,’ Mast found courage
Mast: ‘There must be a million little bottles in God’s heaven with all the prayers that went up for us’
In the summer of 2019, local woman Erma Mast noticed something that would soon change her life — a lump in her left breast.
The big “C” is a scary topic for anyone, but during the month of October, survivors, victims and organization speak out in the hopes of spreading breast cancer awareness. If one life is saved because a man or woman saw signs and knew what to do, it is all worth it.
Mast said in her case, she noticed the lump, but for months, she rationalized it and foolishly ignored it.
“I went to my local [primary care provider] in mid-November 2019,” she said. “She was immediately alarmed. On Dec. 3, I had a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound.”
Following that, on Dec. 11, Mast had biopsies done.
“They did a stereotactic procedure on my right breast and an ultra sound on the left,” she said. “They also did a biopsy on my left lymph node.”
It was Dec. 13, 2019, when she got a call from her doctor and got the results.
“The cancer on the left breast was a tumor, but the biopsy on the lymph node was clear,” Mast said. “I had been so worried about the lymph node because if it was there, it means the cancer had spread.
“There was a relief in that clear result that tempered my fear with the breast cancer.”
Mast said she didn’t know what to do or what to ask so she researched and prepared herself.
“I said to myself, ‘This is my journey, and I can’t turn the other way and run,’” she said. “I knew I would need support, so I reached out to loved ones for love and prayer.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions and sometimes, if needed, get a second opinion.”
At that time, all of the questions and unknowns between her appointments were exhausting.
“What is my treatment,” she said. “Then, Dr. [Lisa] Roark put in a referral to Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) in Tulsa.”
Mast immediately got in for an evaluation, and her first appointment was the day after Christmas.
“Interestingly enough, my family celebrates Christmas along with Thanksgiving,” she said. “So, we were with friends on Christmas and everything was okay.”
Having cancer invade your body is difficult enough, but for it to invade your holiday traditions can be heartbreaking.
“For me, I had such a desire to go to CTCA that I really wasn’t too bothered by it because we were moving forward,” she said. “Along the way, I heard a quote from a holocaust survivor, Corrie Ten Boom: ‘Never be afraid to trust an unknown future, to a known God.’
“Sometimes, it was hard to keep that in the forefront of my mind, but I knew that I needed to.”
Mast said while fighting cancer, you can’t help but to let your mind run wild.
“I knew I needed to not get overwhelmed by what my outcome could be,” she said. “The worst part of cancer is probably all of the worries in the unknown.”
However, the appointment the day after Christmas, Mast got her treatment plan.
“One thing to remember is that you have to be your own health advocate,” she said. “They told me I had stage 2 ER positive — which is an estrogen fed tumor, and was HER 2 Positive.”
The doctors stressed to Mast that her treatment plan was curative.
“One thing that helped me through all of this is that I had the kindest oncologist we could have ever hoped for,” she said. “I wasn’t just another patient to him — I was a person. The CTCA is an amazing treatment center.”
Mast’s treatment journey began on Jan. 6, 2020, with the first of six rounds of chemo.
“My last was on April 21,” she said. “I never really got sick. The CTCA was great at managing the chemo, as well as its effects.”
On June 3, 2020, Mast underwent a bilateral mastectomy with partial reconstruction.
“I had a lot of anxiety about that surgery,” she said. “But, all my worry was for naught, I had a pain-free and speedy recovery.”
Between her last chemo session and her surgery, Mast was honored by the Power of Pink.
“I was one of four ladies chosen and it was amazing, a blessing beyond words,” she said. “Everyone’s journey is so different, but knowing those stories is so important. I will always appreciate others sharing their stories with me.”
Mast’s post-surgery pathology report showed the only cancer cells that were left were in the tumor.
“The chemo killed 90 percent of it,“ she said. “The tissues surrounding it and the lymph nodes were clear, so I didn’t have to do radiation.”
Despite her procrastination in the beginning of her journey, things were looking up.
“By God’s grace we were blessed and so grateful with that report,” Mast said. “If I would do anything different, although it all worked out in the end, I would have gone to the doctor sooner.”
Mast said she was lucky with her team. She got paperwork and explanations of everything — but some women are not that lucky.
“I spoke with another lady who had no idea what she was getting or what the effects would be,” she said. “As people find out about a cancer diagnosis they come to you and say they are praying for you and it is so uplifting.”
Mast said her advice would be to not procrastinate when you notice something going on in your body.
“I rationalized it because I had never been sick, I don’t have a family history and I thought that was keeping me safe,” she said. “I was 68 when I was diagnosed. I also, recommend regular mammograms for women.”
Mast is still receiving infusions every three weeks, which will continue throughout December.
“I get mono-clonal antibodies, which are cell specific drugs that attacks any cancer cells that may still be around,” she said. “I recently read another quote by Corrie Ten Boom, ‘Worry is an old man with a bended head carrying a load of feathers which he thinks are lead.”’
Mast said she is forever indebted to her family and friends for their prayers, love and concern they gave her throughout this fight.
“My husband and I are so blessed,” she said. “In the Bible it says God keeps prayers in little vials. There must be a million little bottles in God’s heaven with all the prayers that went up for us.”
Looking back now, one of the hardest things for Mast was losing her hair.
“It changes everything,” she said. “I had thick hair and it just started falling out, so I had a barber friend cut it all off. It is starting to grow back now — slowly.”
A final quote that Mast read that has stuck with her is from Minnie Louise Haskin, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”