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Mother, son survive cancer together

Every night when Heidi Floyd tucks her son into bed, she says the same thing: “Thank you God, for one more day with this boy.”

Noah, who turned 7 this month, does not really understand the depths of his mother’s daily invocation.

“He thinks I’m silly,” Floyd said with a shrug and smile. “I think I’m just grateful.”

Floyd was 37 when she found out she was pregnant with Noah, her fourth child. That was nearly eight years ago, but she has no trouble recalling every detail.

That’s because just a few weeks after discovering she was pregnant, she found a lump on her breast.

Floyd’s gratitude comes from knowing that it wasn’t that long ago that her life – and that of her unborn child – was in peril.

The diagnosis

Floyd and her family live in Warsaw where her husband, Stuart Floyd, serves as pastor of the Redeemer Lutheran Church. At the time of her diagnosis, Floyd worked in sales for the Vera Bradley company in Fort Wayne. She’s now an ambassador for the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.

Floyd’s mother was 42 when she died of breast cancer, and several relatives had the disease, as well. So when Floyd found the lump, she was shocked but not surprised.

“I always knew it was coming. I just didn’t know when,” Floyd said.

A preliminary needle biopsy came back negative, but Floyd’s doctor suggested a lumpectomy – surgery to remove the tumor and surrounding tissue – to be sure.

During the surgery, doctors discovered Floyd had two nesting tumors – the small one that she had felt earlier and underneath, a much larger one.

“There are many types of breast cancer,” Floyd said. “Mine was a level two out of three, with three being the worst.”

The tumors were removed with a partial mastectomy – a more extensive surgery than a lumpectomy – and doctors advised Floyd to begin treatment as soon as possible. They also recommended the termination of Floyd’s pregnancy.

“It didn’t sound like a good choice for me,” Floyd said.

She confided in her supervisor at Vera Bradley, who suggested Floyd get a second opinion at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center in downtown Indianapolis.

The Vera Bradley Foundation has contributed more than $20 million to the center for cancer research, and Floyd worked for Vera Bradley.

The fight

World-renowned for discovering new ways to treat cancer, the IU Simon Cancer Center is the only one of its kind in Indiana.

Dr. George Sledge, an oncologist, and Vivian Murphy, an oncology nurse, were Floyd’s primary care providers at the center.

Sledge, co-leader of the center’s Breast Cancer Program, worked with other members of his team to come up with a mixture of drugs and treatment that would eradicate Floyd’s cancer and protect her fetus.

Floyd knew she was in good hands when she heard Dr. Sledge was treating 24 other pregnant women who had cancer.

Doctors ruled against using a cancer treatment drug called methotrexate. Chemotherapy medications interfere with the growth of certain cells of the body, especially cells that reproduce quickly, such as cancer cells. But, methotrexate would have crossed the placenta barrier, likely causing birth defects and possibly a miscarriage, according to Murphy.

The medical team did not start the treatment until Floyd’s second trimester, and then administered chemotherapy twice monthly throughout the pregnancy. Floyd had the all-day treatments on Friday followed by an ultrasound on the following Monday to make sure the fetus was all right.

“While some people have chemotherapy that takes less than an hour or two hours, mine was lengthy,” Floyd said.

Floyd was sick much of the time.

“I was so weak I could barely take a shower,” she said.

“Most people experience extreme fatigue during treatments,” Murphy said, “and when you add the strain of a pregnancy and an infant growing inside your body, it is compounded.”

Nearly eight years later, Murphy has no problem remembering Heidi Floyd.

“She was such a bubbly, positive and gracious woman,” Murphy said. “I don’t know how anyone could meet her and not like her.”

A new son

Floyd said she kept her eye on the prize – the birth of her son. She spent a lot of time praying and making deals with God.

“At first I just asked to live long enough to see my son born, then to see him go to school,” Floyd said.

“Now, I’m asking to see him through graduate school,” she said with a laugh. “I’m sure I will ask for another extension.”

Floyd had a cesarean section, followed by a hysterectomy, getting only a brief look at her baby before he was whisked off to the neonatal unit.

“He had a compromised immune system just like me,” Floyd said. “It was days before I got to see him.

But Noah progressed normally and today is an active, healthy boy, who – like his first-grade peers – is interested in Pokémon and sports, according to his father.

“Most people think of miracles as someone walking on water,” Stuart Floyd said, “but for us the miracle was finding the people at IU who came up with a treatment to not only save Heidi but save Noah, as well.

“My wife has always been a rock,” he said. “Her faith gives her the confidence to do the best she can do in any situation. Most spouses in this type of situation feel some pressure to step up, but I relied on her quite a bit.”

Floyd continues to be a rock. Just over a year ago, she was told there was a new tumor. She decided to have a complete double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery.

Today, she continues to have regular check-ups and takes anti-cancer drugs, but said she feels great.

Hope, humor

When Noah was about a year old, Heidi transferred to the Vera Bradley Foundation, where she was asked to travel and raise funds for breast cancer research. Her speeches are anything but depressing.

Using humor, Floyd inspires as she relates her tale.

Floyd was conscious during the lumpectomy surgery and remembers the doctor cutting into her flesh and saying, “Oh my god!”

“ … not something you want to hear from your surgeon while strapped to a gurney,” Floyd said wryly, bringing laughter from the crowd attending a recent event at IPFW.

As an ambassador for the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer, Floyd is the perfect advocate for the cause, according to Melissa Schenkel, spokeswoman for the foundation.

“She speaks at events across the country and is a dynamic speaker, whose personal story impacts everyone she encounters,” Schenkel said.

Floyd has talked with women around the world who have similar stories.

“I get the same reaction whether I’m talking to someone from Australia or Kansas,” Floyd said. “They are scared and they don’t know what to do.”

Floyd never gives medical advice, she said, but simply shares her story.

“I’m sad that everyone can’t have the same treatment I had,” she said.

And to everyone she meets, she offers the same words of encouragement.

“You are much stronger than you think you are. Stay strong; stay focused on the end result,” Floyd advises, “and pray every day.”

vsade@jg.net

Cancer comforts

Heidi Floyd suggests things to give a person in cancer treatment:
•Humorous reading material or magazines with beautiful settings or entertaining themes that will transport the person to a better place. “Don’t give them the ‘So You Have Cancer …’ book.”
•Warm clothing such as thick socks, sweaters, shawls or pachminas. “I was always cold during treatment.”
•Lip balms and lotions. “Dry skin is a common symptom of cancer treatment.”
•Front-button shirts or blouses made of soft materials. “Everything hurts – even stiff fabric and lifting their arms above their heads is difficult for many.”
•Big cups with straws that the patient can easily reach. “Again, everything hurts.”
•Gift cards for gas, restaurants, groceries etc. “This disease is many times financially devastating for patients and their families for years – if not decades.”
For more on the Vera Bradley Foundation, go to www.verabradley.org.
To see a short film chronicling Heidi’s cancer treatment at the IU Simon Cancer Center, go to IU Impact at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbVawtZQNck&feature=colike.

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