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Breast cancer survivors share stories of hope

Michael Tortorich

Cherie Whitaker McLin’s life changed six years ago on Oct. 23.

She can still recall using her beloved Disney soap during a bath. That was when she noticed a hard lump.

Cherie Whitaker McLin, shown with Scott McLin, underwent radiation and chemotherapy during her breast cancer journey.

“I got out of the bath and asked my husband to check my lymph nodes, which were enlarged on that side,” she said.

After that Friday night, McLin made an appointment to see her doctor Monday. Her usual doctor was out at a conference, so she saw a new one.

She went for a mammogram and an ultrasound. As she remembered, the radiologist told her she was “very afraid.”

McLin then met with Dr. Michael Hailey the next day. It was her and her husband’s 20th anniversary.

The couple joked that a biopsy was not exactly their idea of an anniversary celebration.

“Laughter and a positive attitude are key to a better recovery,” McLin said.

The days that followed were “fast and furious,” she explained.

“I had a chemotherapy port put in a few days later, and just under three weeks from day one, I had my first chemotherapy,” McLin said.

Her husband created a page, “Cherie's Pretty in Pink” to share her progress.

“I documented my pains along the way, and invited some other breast cancer friends to the page so they could see my progression and have hope,” she said.

As an employee of the Our Lady of the Lake hospital system, she knew she would get excellent care from her oncologist, Dr. David Hanson.

An early sign of hope came when her tumor shrank from 3.6 centimeters to 2 millimeters.

By day nine, her hair had to be shaved. It was the morning of her family’s Christmas party.

“I was quite surprised when nearly every man in my family shaved their heads for me that day,” she said. “It was an incredible day. I have to look at the photos to see just how many did it. At least ten in total.”

She found wearing a wig to be uncomfortable anyway.

“I couldn’t take it. It was so hot and I just hated it,” she said.

McLin started her daily radiation at 6:30 a.m. By 7 a.m., she was in her office chair. Some days, she had to take off to get some rest.

“I worked throughout my cancer journey,” she said. “People were very moved by the dedication I had to my job, the upbeat attitude, and the ability to laugh at myself all the time.”

Chemotherapy did take a toll on her. Sometimes she stumbled over words. Then there was bone and joint pain.

McLin said she continues to see her doctors periodically.

“I see my oncologist every three months for full bloodwork, and I see my breast surgeon every six months with full scans, so I’m being watched carefully,” she said.

Looking through photos, many memories flood back. From the time she was invited to do the seventh-inning stretch at an LSU baseball game, to all of the gifts she received.

Karen Hays Braud shared some similarities in her journey through breast cancer, which began in September 2014 after a routine mammogram.

“I am six years breast cancer free on Oct. 28,” she said. “It’s not a really exciting journey, but it got me to where I am today.”

After a lumpectomy in October 2016, Braud received radiation five times per week for six weeks. She began taking Tamoxifen in March 2015, and concluded five years of that in March of this year.

“I have done two different genetic tests, and have no markers for cancer. That’s why I encourage everyone to get checked regularly, even if it's not really common in your family,” Braud said.