In 21 years, 3 cancers, she sees progress

Published 12:42 am Saturday, April 27, 2019

Cindy Martin’s cancer journey has spanned more than 21 years and three different cancer diagnoses.

In 1998, Martin, who teaches at Pleasant Home, was teaching her daughter how to do a self examination when she discovered her first lump.

“I was 34 and my daughter was 16,” Martin said. “I decided that it was time that I taught her how to do a self breast exam. When I was doing that, I found a lump on myself. I had a physical in November and I found the lump in January. It had gone from not being detectible to almost three inches large when I found it. It was a fast growing cancer. I had surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and I lost all my hair. I got well, but I had to switch jobs at the time.”

In 2004, the next time the cancer popped up, it was a different form of cancer.

“At 40, I was diagnosed with a new type of cancer,” Martin said. “It was not a reoccurrence, which is important because with reoccurrence, they say that it spreads to a different part of your body. This was just a new cancer that popped up on the other side. That time again, I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and lost all my hair again. By then, my daughters were all just about grown.”

Sometime between the second and third cancer diagnosis, Martin had genetic testing done and found out that she was positive for the BRCA gene mutation, which notably increases the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers.

In 2017, Martin was diagnosed again with breast cancer, but fought back hard to make sure it would not happen again.

“I had the genetic testing done and I did test positive for the BRCA mutation, which would explain why I kept on getting cancer,” Martin said. “In 2017, when I got diagnosed again, this was my third time, so I said, ‘To heck with it,’ and got a double mastectomy.”

Martin said that with each of her diagnoses, there has been new upgrades and technologies.

“The first time that I got cancer, we did the whole axillary dissection where they took out a bunch of lymph nodes and did all the treatments,” Martin said. “The second time, they had moved forward to where they take a radioactive isotope and they only take about three or four lymph nodes out so you have less complications, but I still had the same old chemo and radiation stuff. The third time, they have reached the point where they take a sample of the tumor and they check its DNA to determine what it is what will take care of it. This time I didn’t have to have chemo, I just take medication for it.”

The first time that Martin was diagnosed with cancer, she said was devastated.

“The first time I was completely devastated when I got the news,” Martin said. “Because my daughters were 16, 13 and 10. I mean I had three young children and I was just devastated. I finally got over it and I had such strong support from my church family.”

The second time for Martin was a little easier because she said that she was only five minutes away from her treatment center.

“I was living in Montgomery, so it was a little easier in some ways,” Martin said. “It was very convenient for me to go and get treatments and come home. Also, I had already been there and done that, so it wasn’t quite as scary.”

When Martin found out for the third time, she was ready to take it on.

“Somehow, cancer has become less scary to me now,” Martin said. “I find this disease an annoyance. It’s just this irritating thing I have to deal with before I can move on. So, 19 years later, I am facing cancer number 3. And 19 years later, it’s OK. Cancer has taken parts of my body. It has taken part of my time. And it has stolen peace from part of my life, but it can’t take the things that really matter. It can’t alter my ultimate destination. It can’t kill my soul. It is really just a disease, a puny little thing that has to be dealt with. And that is not so scary anymore.”

For Martin, Relay for Life is a way that other cancer survivors like herself can encourage people who are going through the battle right now.

“I think for some people, especially when it is new, the support that they feel and when they look around and see other people that have survived is huge,” Martin said. “I mean, I have survived this for 21 years and people can look at me and say, ‘Hey, she beat this thing and it has been 21 years,’ so I think people really need that moral support.”

Martin said that cancer has given her more than it has taken away.

“I appreciate my girls and I appreciate my life,” Martin said. “And I appreciate the borrowed time that I have been living on for the last 21 years. I have shared so many conversations with other people who are going through this that I never would have had if I didn’t go through this situation.”