Fayetteville, Ga. (October 4, 2013) – After cancer claimed the lives of her father and grandmother, Fayetteville resident Merry Neely’s fear of cancer became so paralyzing, she refused to even say the “c-word.” Then, in 2012, her worst nightmare became a reality at Piedmont Fayette Hospital when she, too, was diagnosed with cancer.
“My first reaction was just to crawl into a hole,” said Neely, who was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma – the most common form of breast cancer. “At the time, it was the most devastating news I could receive, especially after seeing what my father and grandmother went through when they had cancer.”
Neely’s diagnosis came after she found a large, mysterious lump on her chest that seemed to appear and then mysteriously disappear. She consulted Nicole Sroka, M.D., breast surgeon at Piedmont Fayette, about the lump, who immediately sent Neely for testing that revealed Neely’s biggest nightmare had come true.
“Today, we know mobile lumps can still be cancerous even though they have not attached to the chest wall yet,” said Dr. Sroka. “Merry’s diligence in coming to get checked early made her treatment much easier.”
To aid her in her fight against breast cancer, Neely decided to name her cancer, “Sybil,” after talking to another patient who suggested doing so would give her power to fight back. Friends supported Neely’s decision to name her opponent and decorated a bucket Neely used when she was sick with rhinestones that spelled out, “Merry vs. Sybil” to encourage Neely’s fighting spirit.
“Not knowing what would happen next was the worst part,” said Neely. “Once I knew the path and had a plan to fight Sybil, I could deal with it. My attitude became, ‘This is how I will live.’”
Neely went to Piedmont Fayette’s Cancer Center for six rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery and several weeks of radiation. When treatment led her to develop lymphedema and axillary web syndrome, a condition that occurs after breast surgery which causes cording in the underarm, Neely underwent intense therapy with Piedmont Fayette’s rehabilitation team to reduce the swelling and pain in her arm.
Through it all, Neely sported different wigs just for fun or colorful scarves tied in new ways as a symbol of how her positivity would help her win her battle with Sybil. She had one goal: to beat cancer and get back living life.
Today, Neely is cancer-free and helps other cancer patients and survivors by serving on the Piedmont Fayette Cancer Center Patient and Family Advisory Council. She reminds patients to look for the blessings, no matter how small, and gives them encouragement throughout their journey with cancer.
“It’s a hard road, but you can make it if you take it one day at a time,” said Neely. “When it comes to cancer, you don’t have a choice. No one wants cancer. The only thing you have a choice about is your attitude.”
Neely was among the 230,000 women diagnosed with new cases of invasive breast cancer last year, according to the American Cancer Society. Regular screening mammograms, breast self-exams and yearly breast exams by a physician can help detect breast cancer at an early stage. For more information, visit piedmontcancer.org.