Editor’s Note: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Dunn County Herald will be doing profiles on breast cancer survivors this month.
Jackie Sinclair sat on a couch next to her husband, Pat, and enjoyed the lazy afternoon in their Killdeer home. At the foot of the couch was her sassy cat who thinks he’s the king of the world.
They didn’t talk much, but you could sense an incredible togetherness between man and wife. They were a Norman Rockwell picture of love and family. The cat even had a feline-like grin.
The day was chilly, with Mother Nature threatening to dump some moisture in the area. But Sinclair doesn’t see the gloom. She has a sunny outlook regardless of what the weatherman says or what life throws at her.
It’s been like that for more than 20 years – 21 to be exact.
It’s been that long that Sinclair first was thrust into a live-altering situation. in 1995, Sinclair learned she had breast cancer at the age of 44. Cancer formed in cells in her right breast.
She had Ductal carcinoma, which is the most common breast cancer type.
About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.
It’s been a curse for Sinclair and her family. Sinclair’s mother and two aunts had breast cancer. And just last year, Sinclair’s younger sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 44, the same age as Sinclair when she was diagnosed.
According to studies, a woman’s risk of breast cancer nearly doubles if she has a first-degree relative – mother, sister, daughter – who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“With cancer, years ago, when you heard it, that was it,” Sinclair said. “I had a decision to make. And we did what we had to do.”
Her children were still school, her youngest was in the third grade. Sinclair wanted to see her graduate high school.
With that resolve, Sinclair refused to give into the disease, the uncertainty and the fear. Sinclair knew it would not be easy, but it was also not impossible to beat.
And she used her family’s cancer as motivation, witnessing firsthand how they dealt with the disease and ultimately survived its deadly grip.
These days, experts predict that more than 40,000 women will die from breast cancer, although the death rates have continually decreased since 1989.
“Knowing people had survived really helped me,” Sinclair said.
When her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1990s, Sinclair started doing self examinations daily, and she did feel some lumps. But she thought they were cysts in her breast.
One day, while Pat was in the hospital due to appendicitis, Sinclair spoke with a nurse practitioner about the lump she felt. The nurse practitioner suggested they do mammogram examination. It was negative.
The nurse practioner suggested a biopsy to be certain. Sinclair was relieved when the doctor told her he didn’t believe it was cancerous.
But that relief turned to disappointment when the results came back three days later. She heard those awful words: “You have cancer.”
Sinclair was at a cross roads. All she could think about, though, was her family and how she was not going to lose them. She met the disease head on and had a mascectomy and went on living.
“There was a lot of support. My husband, my family, my friends within the community, they all came over and provided support,” she said.
Ten years later, however, Sinclair felt lumps in her left breast and had a mammogram showed there was something there. Doctors were unsure if they were cancerous, but the chances were good she would be facing the same fight again. She chose to meet it head on again, and has another mascectomy.
Pat listened intently, munching from the can of nuts on his lap. He nodded his head as his wife shared her story. A look of pride filled his face. He was proud of his wife’s courage.
“She’s very courageous,” he said quietly, almost in a whisper.
“To me, it’s very special. It was never a ‘poor me, poor me’ thing. She just lived. But she never put it out, ‘look what I did,'” he said.
Self pity or self glorification just isn’t her style.
“When you’re faced with something like this, you have to make a choice, to fight it or give up. I didn’t give up and now we have 10 grand children,” Sinclair said with a smile.