Cancer survivor: Check, check, check

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, April 22, 2015


From the moment last year when Candace Hudson first suspected she might have breast cancer, she has listened to her gut.

At first, she thought the slight difference she noticed might be fibroids. It was almost the end of school, and Hudson, a bus driver, thought she’d just wait for her annual check-up in June.

But two weeks before school was out, she developed an upper-respiratory infection. The suspicious spot, she said, “just blew up.”

The then-39-year-old called to set up her annual check-up, and explained the symptom. Immediately, she was sent for a mammogram.

“The radiologist immediately did an ultrasound, too,” Hudson said. By this time, in her gut she knew she’d eventually get a dreaded diagnosis of cancer. If there was any doubt left, it went away when the radiologist said, “I’ll be praying.”

“I already knew,” she said. “But then, I knew for sure.”

That was in the last week of May in 2014. On June 4, she had a biopsy. On June 9, she got the official report – positive for breast cancer. She scheduled a mastectomy for that Fri., June 13, and set about the business of telling her family.

“When we were going to do the biopsy, I told my children that it was a possibility it would be positive for breast cancer,” Hudson recalled. “I told everybody to go on about their business. Go to work, go to school, it was going to be OK.”

It has only been a year since her own mother had died of Stage 4 lung cancer, just days after her diagnosis. For Hudson, it was important that that lives of those around her remain as routine as possible. But the last year has been anything but routine.

On the morning of her surgery, she was very apprehensive – not about the surgery, but with a feeling that she should have a double mastectomy, not the single that was scheduled. Her surgery was delayed while she asked Dr. Tim Day to change the plan, and waited for her insurance company to approve it.

She went home the next morning, and her drainage tubes were removed a week later. She has a strong memory of that initial recovery.

“Seeing yourself for the first time when you unwrap is shocking,” she said. “But it’s also a blessing, to know that it’s gone. It’s gone.”

Each of the 29 lymph nodes removed during her surgery tested positive for cancer. A week later, she learned the cancer was Stage 3, Her2.

“Every story I’ve read or talked to someone about with breast cancer, if it was at that point, in six months to a year it was in the other one,” she said. “I was very glad I listened to myself and had both breasts removed. I didn’t want to do this again.”

Immediately, she had another surgical procedure to get a port, and two weeks after her surgery, started chemo.

“The first round was every other week for four doses,” she said. “On the fifth to seventh day afterward, it was very tiring, and it would take a week to regroup.”

Next came round two, which was chemo once a week for 12 weeks.

“On Dec. 10, 2014, I got to ring the bell,” she said, explaining the tradition of ringing the bell in the cancer center to signify being done.

“The week after chemo, I got the flu,” she said. “Then, I got another upper respiratory infection.”

Determined to be undeterred in the healing process, on Dec. 30, she had a hysterectomy.

“I did genetic testing the second week of chemo, and I was positive,” she said. “That makes me in the 80th percentile to have ovarian cancer. The breast cancer gene, BRACA, also leads to ovarian cancer.”

And two weeks after that, she began a protocol of 33 doses of radiation. Midway, she took a three-day break because of redness and burning in her skin.

“I started back, and finished on March 18, 2015, which would have been my mother 56th birthday,” Hudson said. “By then, she had been gone two years.”

In addition to the treatment she’s done, Hudson is on a 10-year, oral chemo regimen. She plans to return to work in August.

The advice she has for women can be boiled down to one word: Check.

“Check, check, check,” she said. “It is very important.”

At the time of her diagnosis, she was a year away from the age at which mammograms are recommended.

And her advice for anyone who gets a positive diagnosis is simple.

“Stay positive,” she said. “That’s the first thing I did, was determine that I would be positive and those around me would be, too.”

“At that point, I knew I had children that need me, and that I need to be here for,” she said. “I had a need to carry on, make memories. It’s a mental decision. You have to say, ‘I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.’ Period. You’ve got to be positive.”

She said she wanted to know the possibilities of what could happen to her, but she told her doctors they had one shot.

“I told the doctor, ‘Tell me all that, and that’s it. We’re going to be positive. After that, there will be no negative in this room. I may can have problems, but I’m not.’ ”

“First off, God has to be first,” she said. “Being positive with the cancer is what you’ve got to do.”

Even as she was in the midst of her journey, Hudson was already becoming and advocate, a role she plans to continue. She helped raise money to update chemo chairs in the local oncology center, and to help fellow cancer patients who needed help with transportation or co-pays. She’d also like the opportunity to speak with young women about the importance of self exams.

And she has nothing but high praise for the 21st Century Oncology Center in Andalusia.

“If you don’t have to travel, we have a great facility,” she said. “I had a great surgeon in Dr. Timothy Day, and I never had a doubt in my mind to leave. We have the best of the best here.”

Between them, Candace and Tim Hudson have four children, Zachary Ward, Madison Ward, Brett Hudson and Megan Hudson; and one grandchild, A.J., who is 3.