Survivors Thomas, Prince honored
Every year the Relay For Life honors people who are cancer survivors.
This year Relay is honoring Dorothy Thomas and Irene Prince, both of Madras.
Madras resident Dorothy Thomas had recently returned from a cross country trip to settle her youngest daughter in Syracuse, N.Y., when she went in for a lumpectomy on Oct. 13, 1989.
She had had breast lumps before, so the 63-year-old was concerned, but not overly. Thomas and her husband were looking forward to an empty nest, retirement, and travel.
Unlike earlier biopsies, however, this one was cancerous and an aggressive strain. Thomas' doctors removed her right breast and 18 lymph nodes that day. They enrolled her in a chemotherapy study investigating the effectiveness of higher than normal dosages of four drugs administered over a shorter period of time.
Later, Thomas also participated in trials of the breast cancer treatment drug Tamoxifen, a breakthrough drug that came from American Cancer Society research.
The harsh chemotherapy treatments took a heavy toll. Thomas was overwhelmed by nausea. Large clumps of her hair began falling out on Thanksgiving Day. She was so weak, walking the short loop around her driveway was exhausting. Her right arm began to swell.
Thomas thought often about her mother who died of cervical cancer in 1958 at the age of 66 and wondered if she would survive.
Looking back, Thomas says she got through the darkest hours by praying for help and repeating favorite Bible verses. "I also had a lot of confidence in my doctors," Thomas said. The smell of food cooking made her ill, so the many meals prepared and delivered by neighbors, friends, and churches helped her eat.
Thomas kept her sense of humor, and could laugh when a gust of wind blew her wig off in the Erickson's parking lot in front of an astonished teenage box boy. She walked with her husband when she felt up to it. Gradually Thomas got better.
Twenty-two years after her mastectomy, Thomas still struggles with lymphedema in her right arm. She controls the pain and swelling by doing daily exercises and wearing a compression sleeve. Every so often, she sees a therapist certified in manual lymph drainage to relieve the pressure.
"The main thing I want people to know by sharing my story is that you can survive cancer," Thomas said. "You can get very, very sick and you can get better."
Irene Swain was born on Jan. 1, 1925, in Wichita, Kan. -- the year before they began giving gifts for the New Year's baby!
The third of six children, she grew up during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. She was active in track and swimming, was a member of her high school rifle club, and enjoyed roller skating.
During World War II, she worked at the Boeing plant in Wichita as a Rosie the Riveter, helping build B29 airplanes. She Married Don Prince in 1945 and moved to Southern California.
Together they raised four children -- Jim, Dennis, Orval and Donell. In 1975, the family moved to Madras and opened Prince's Automotive. Irene Prince worked as the bookkeeper for the family business, as well as several other businesses in Madras.
In 1982, Prince was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to a lymph node in her underarm. She chose to have a semi-radical mastectomy, and then reconstructive surgery.
Upon returning to work at Prince's Automotive after her recovery, she quipped that she would have been back sooner, "but you know how hard it is to get spare parts in Central Oregon!" Chemotherapy rounded out her course of treatment.
Prince has a great zest for life. Recently, at a family reunion, she ended up in the emergency room, where she tried very hard to convince the attending physician that her injury was minor, because there was a party she had to get back to!
Her father and brothers survived prostate cancer, her younger sister survived breast cancer and a niece has survived cervical and uterine cancers, and is currently battling breast cancer. She comes from a family of survivors.
Irene Prince has been cancer free for almost 29 years now. Winning her battle has allowed her to live a full life and enjoy watching her six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren grow up.