Finishing the war on cancer

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 3, 2005

Sally Hodo was diagnosed with breast cancer just before Christmas. The diagnosis came as the result of a routine mammogram following her annual physical, which “did not show it,” she says.

“It was almost Christmas. I didn’t have time for all the tests and procedures, but I went ahead with them. First was the ultra-sound, done by Dr. Mary Karsh, is a little-bitty bird-like woman with fabulous eyes – I knew from her face that the tumor was malignant.”

The ultra-sound was followed by a needle biopsy, “done immediately,” Mrs. Hodo says, “because her staff at Women’s Pavilion volunteered to stay late that day to complete it.”

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It was several days before her return to Montgomery to get the results and this time her husband, Jim Hodo, went with her.

“We saw another doctor, who gave us the results of the biopsy and was very encouraging about the prognosis because the biopsy was so encouraging. Then cancer became the center of my life.”

Her doctor told the Hodos that she could not leave without making an appointment with a surgeon, Dr. Lee Eaddy, for the next day.

“Jim was with me when I saw him. I felt immediately his expertise, his concern, his compassion for breast cancer patients. He scheduled a lumpectomy and performed it as outpatient surgery. I left the same day, took only three or four pain pills – I’ve had poison ivy worse than the lumpectomy,” Sally Hodo says, laughing at the memory.

However, the pathology report was a disappointment. The physician telephoned her, saying “Most of the news is good. It is a small, low-grade tumor with no nodes, but there are two specks, only 3 mm and 4 mm in size and we need more tissue for better borders.”

She went back immediately and her physician used the same incision to obtain the needed tissue. “But this time it was done with local anesthesia, which was really not a problem. I don’t remember anything about it, but I had a longer recovery period.”

Her pathology report was fine and in three weeks she began radiation treatments at Montgomery Cancer Center.

“They made a mold so I would keep still under the machine. There was no pain with the treatments; I did not get burned. The only side effect has been the fatigue but every day I feel a little better.”

For the next five years, she will have a mammogram every three months. Although she is estrogen-sensitive (a necessity to take tamoxifen, the recurrence-preventative drug), Hodo has not yet decided whether or not to take it.

And due to her experience with breast cancer, she says, “I have learned important things; my whole concept of time has changed since cancer became so much a center of my life. At first, I didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to say the word. I had to stay so focused on recovery that I was traumatized so I had to ease the cancer trauma out of my system.

I have always been a health nut, eating my broccoli, exercising, having a yearly physical – having cancer didn’t seem fair.”

Already active in the American Cancer Society Relay for Life Committee, Hodo speaks of “the breast cancer epidemic. Some reports claim one woman in seven will have breast cancer.” But, she is resolved to take advantage of the advances in cancer research and the health care available.”

Pausing for a moment, she looked away, shook her head and said, “An odd thing happened during 9-11. I was in the doctor’s office, grudgingly having my yearly physical, something I resolved to do after my father refused to guard his health. The television was on and I sat there and watched those buildings tumble down. Until then I had endured health care. I decided at that moment to be grateful that these tests are possible. So many women in other parts of the world have no recourse when cancer strikes, or other illnesses.

“Before cancer came into my life, I felt I had to carry around the world’s grief, my obligation as a good citizen. Now I block it out if I can’t do anything about it and that leaves me more energy to do things.”

Sally Hodo is doing a variety of things. Two weeks ago she helped plant 50 trees at Craig, with the assistance of seven fifth graders. As president of Master Gardeners, she is planning and working with projects such as making flower beds at the County Extension office and landscaping Kenan’s Mills.

She taught writing for 10 years, quit 10 years ago and is now writing again – in an office on Water Avenue, “complete with file cabinets and lots of research papers,” she says. For the present, writing, gardening and her three dogs fill her days.

“I spend an hour a day with my dogs, two Brittany Spaniels and an English Setter named respectively Sophie, Zoey and Belle Ranger, who have a pen a half-acre in size. Sophie and Zoey hunt quail with Jim. Belle is a coward.”

Sally Hodo, as a volunteer for ACS, would say to women diagnosed with breast cancer, “Don’t be so frightened. We have to be open about this, we must have a yearly mammogram and an annual physical. Early detection, early treatment and an open mind will help us defeat it. Let’s calm our fears and face it.”