Will to Fight

Published 9:57 am Wednesday, September 28, 2016


The moment that changed Merreann McDonald’s life occurred in the most innocent of ways. Only six months after a breast cancer scare that had turned out to be a false alarm, she woke up in the middle of the night with her hand resting on a lump under her left breast. That simple moment is now permanently in her memory as the moment that started her 13-month battle with breast cancer.

“It was a Tuesday,” McDonald said. “I woke up on June 2 [2015]. I woke up in the middle of the night and my hand was on the lump. I woke my husband up and said ‘I feel something. Do you feel something right here? This is weird.’ He said ‘I feel something there, but don’t worry about it we’ll get it checked out.’ I said ‘its cancer.’ He said ‘don’t worry about it go back to sleep.’ Well I didn’t go back to sleep. I sat up all night wondering what do I do.”

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The next morning she went to Thomasville to see the surgeon with whom she’d been having regular mammograms for five years.

“He examined me and he touched the lump,” McDonald said. “He was concerned. He said we need to get a mammogram. I told him I had one scheduled for the next week. He said, ‘No I want one now’.”

The tumor was found on her chest wall under her left breast. That Thursday, she had an appointment with a pathologist to perform a biopsy and get the official diagnosis.

“You get that disgusting sick feeling of: is my life about to be turned upside down?” she said. “I was fighting tears the entire time in the waiting room. I could hardly even speak to anybody because I felt like I was just going to bust out crying not knowing. He came back about 10 minutes later and said it’s cancer, and it’s bad. He said he could watch my cells multiplying in front of his eyes. It’s very aggressive.”

The question that was raised when she had found the lump in the middle of the night only two days early now had its official answer. It was cancer.

“My thought went to immediately, I’m about to die?” McDonald said. “I never dreamed that I would have cancer and I never dreamed that someone would be telling me at 50 years old you’re about to die. I asked him point blank can I survive this, and he said it’ll be difficult. You’re going to have a journey.”

The first response was to do a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and then start chemo and radiation in August.

“They told me because of the nature of the cancer and how aggressive it was they were going to treat me as though I was a healthy 22 year old and just go no holds barred,” McDonald said. “We knew it was going to be a tough fight and we knew my treatment was going to be very tough.”

In the telling of her story about going through that journey, it is not the treatment itself that brings her to tears. It is not when she recounts the days where she was so weak that she couldn’t lift her head, let alone get out of bed. It’s not recounting the days that she would walk from her bed to the stairs only to realize that she couldn’t make it down.

No, that part of the journey was just another job and she has had plenty of those. An accountant, a realtor, a teacher, and now her job was to fight for her life and battle this disease.

The part that brings tears to her eyes is not talking about cancer’s effect on her, but on her family and the support they offered during her treatment.

It is when she tells the story of how her son would sit beside her for 12 hours a day when she was at her weakest point.

“He was such a support person to me,” McDonald said. “Every time I had chemo…he’d sit beside me on Fridays and read, and he never said a word. He’d let me sleep…He just sat for 12 hours a day every time I had chemo. Two days after he sat in that chair.”

It is the story of how the day she went to have her head shaved; she looked out the window and saw five members of her family in the backyard with clippers shaving their heads as well.

“I can’t imagine what they felt thinking that life could end soon for our mom,” McDonald said. “Especially for my little ones. I’d only been their mom for three years and they need a mom and a dad. That gave me a lot of the strength to fight.”

No matter how dark it got during her treatments, on the days when she didn’t want to go back because it was so difficult, the support from her family and her faith gave McDonald the strength to continue to fight.

“Even though there were days that I didn’t want to battle I had someone in my face saying you’re going to battle it,” McDonald said. “I believe that’s important to surround yourself with people who will make you be the best you can be through it. It has not been easy.”

For 13 months she battled, and two weeks ago, on Sept. 7, she received her final treatment and rang the bell of hope symbolizing the closing of another chapter of her story of recovery.

“There is no evidence of disease,” McDonald said. “I can’t say I’m in remission or anything like that. We’re just living on faith. They’ve used everything they can to treat me and we’re just hoping for the best.”

Her once reddish-colored hair has grown back in grey, but after much debate she has decided to leave it that way.

“It is who I am, and it’s a sign of what I’ve been through,” she said. “I’m just happy to have hair I don’t care what color it is… There’s a new great. There’s a different great. I don’t think you ever go back to who you were.”

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