Meet Links for Life Cancer Survivor Judith Todd
By Genevieve Branco
If I had to pick one thing Judith Todd said during our interview to encapsulate her spirit and energy, it would be when she told me that she felt lucky to have only underwent 20 radiation treatments during her breast cancer journey, compared to many others who undergo 25. The youthful, energetic woman with short gray hair that had only recently grown after completing chemotherapy treatment, was sitting in front of me with a large, friendly smile, as she shared her story of survival and resilience since finding two lumps in her breast in 2020. Here is her story.
In October of 2020, Judith found a lump in her left breast. It felt like a small pea that she knew didn’t belong there. When she felt it again, it had moved, or so she thought, as she would find out later that she actually had two separate lumps in her breast. Judith was 69 years old, which is significant in the world of breast cancer, because treatment after age 70 can be different. Judith was no stranger to cancer or cancer treatment, as she had overcome uterine cancer just a year and a half earlier. (Although the two cancers were found to be unrelated and despite Judith having family that had survived breast cancer, she did not have the breast cancer BRCA gene mutation that would have increased her risk.)
Those early days of Covid-19 were a difficult time to for anyone to endure doctors’ appointments, testing, and surgeries, which made Judith’s journey even more challenging. She was all alone when she did her first-ever MRI. She was all alone when she heard the words, you have cancer. She was all alone when she sat in the parking lot outside of her OBGYN’s office and cried in the car. When she walked into her home after that appointment and told her husband the news, he was stunned, but it didn’t take more than a minute for him to respond with confidence that together, they could overcome this diagnosis.
From the initial lump to the diagnosis, to the chemotherapy, radiation, and lumpectomies, Judith remembers that life moved very fast. Her doctors weren’t going to waste any time on the aggressive cancer that she had, even though it was in its early stages. During initial chemo, Judith felt great and even baked goodies for the infusion clinic staff. She was so grateful that even though Covid-19 was in full swing, her husband could be by her side during all the treatments. Unfortunately, after a few treatments, Judith’s spark began to dull and she felt tired and sick, and after her fifth treatment she was hospitalized for two days because of an infection. She also underwent 20 radiation therapy treatments and a second round of chemotherapy. Judith wore her baldness like a badge of honor, unafraid of someone seeing her. She said she earned it, and bald can be beautiful. Today when she looks back on this challenging time, Judith simply says, “you gotta keep smiling.”
On May 22, Judith finished treatment, but she still has her port-a-cath as a protruding reminder that although it may feel like a memory, it was almost just yesterday that she underwent this incredible journey. Her hair is now almost two inches long, and she says it grew back different than it was before. Judith volunteers at Links for Life and participates in the support groups to encourage others who are just beginning their journey. When asked what advice she would give to someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer she shared a few golden nuggets. First, have faith and take one day at a time. Second, drink lots of fluids. Third, on the good days, especially early on in treatment, pre-make meals and freeze them. Even the strongest person will have bad days during treatment and the pre-made meals can help get you through it. Judith also said that good friends and family who supported her, the newbie support group at Links for Life, and audio books get credit for helping her endure the journey.
Judith reserved her final words of her interview for words that were not about her, but about others. She wanted to make sure that we continue to promote breast self-examinations as an important aspect of health. She also wanted to tell those undergoing treatment, (especially women) to not be self-conscious about your appearance, but that getting out is much more important than worrying about how you look.