For Lee Turner, breast cancer was just a prelude to a string of cataclysmic events in her life. After her biopsy in fall of 2008, her sister’s husband shot and killed her sister, her son had a pancreas transplant, her granddaughter was born with a genetic disorder and her stepmother was diagnosed with breast cancer as well.
"I don’t know how people get through something like this without God and prayer," said the 69-year-old music teacher. "It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done."
Turner said she always had a premonition she would have breast cancer — her mother, aunt and cousin all had the disease. Because of her family’s history, Turner had regular screenings and checkups. Even so, her own cancer didn’t show up in a mammogram, due to the density of her breast tissue.
At a routine gynecological exam, her doctor felt a lump in her left breast, but it still wasn’t detected in an ultrasound. A few months later, a rash developed on her left breast leading to the biopsy. By the time Turner was finally diagnosed, she was already close to stage four.
For Turner, losing both breasts in double mastectomy and her hair in chemotherapy were not the most difficult parts of the disease. "My focus was getting this junk out of my body. The hair will grow back," she said.
Her biggest struggle was the confinement at home. "I dealt with it. I wasn’t depressed. I would do one day at a time. One treatment at a time. Then I would think, this time next year... this will be over when I start back to school. That’s how I paced myself through it. Looking forward," she said. Her family was also a great resource, and a sense of humor was another essential. She was tickled observing her husband doing household chores he had never attempted before.
After retiring from Pine Street Elementary in 2004, Turner went back to work at Eastminster School. "I draw life from these children," she said. Her students would keep her in the loop while she was away with supportive e-mails describing what was going on at school. "Getting back to school was the best medicine," she said. Also, throwing herself back into her regular gig directing music for Social Circle Theater’s fall production was another balm.
Just recently, Turner learned the cancer is back in a lymph node. "Once you have breast cancer you’re always a patient. Every 3 or 6 months when you have tests you feel like you’re sitting on a time bomb," she said. Her doctor is optimistic and told her the chemotherapy this time will not be as aggressive. On Turner’s to-do list during chemotherapy is knitting more pink hats. That project occupied her last time. She knits them for friends and leaves some with the nurses to pass along.
Turner’s philosophy regarding cancer is best summarized in her e-mail signature. "What Cancer Cannot Do… It cannot invade the soul, suppress memories, kill friendship, destroy peace... conquer the spirit, shatter hope, cripple love, corrode faith, steal eternal life, silence courage."