The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

October 26, 2013

Seasoned survivor: Brownstown woman successfully battled breast cancer decades ago

JOHNSTOWN — Breast cancer month has significant meaning to 76-year-old Lavonne Adams of Brownstown Borough.

This month marks her 40th anniversary of being cancer free following a mastectomy in 1973.

The first indication of a problem occurred when she told her gynecologist that she had a soreness in her breast and suspected something was wrong.

At the time, considering the state of technology and the unknown stage of her illness, doctors took a wait-and-see attitude.

“I was told that cancer usually doesn’t hurt, but they would keep an eye on things,” Adams said.

At age 36, she had to undergo a partial hysterectomy at Memorial Medical Center when her surgeon, the late Dr. William Yates, took a biopsy of her breast.

The results came back positive for breast cancer.

As her husband, Len, stood vigil in the waiting area, he was approached by Yates, still in his scrubs, and told of his wife’s plight.

“He asked Len to make the decision about the mastectomy and taking my lymph nodes,” Adams said.

Her husband’s response was simple:

“Whatever you need to do to save my wife’s life, do it.”

“That was 40 years ago and I still have my cupcake,” he said.

When Lavonne awoke from the surgery, she wasn’t surprised at the loss of her breast.

“I was told prior to surgery that it may be an option,” she said. “I know it was a hard decision for my husband to make.”

Following surgery, Lavonne did some therapy, but never was told about reconstructive surgery. She did not require any radiation or chemotherapy, because her doctor said the cancer was diagnosed early enough that it didn’t spread.

She made a good recovery, but not without a lot of help.

She had five children at the time, ranging in age from 3 to 16.

“When I got home, I couldn’t raise my arm high enough to comb my little girl’s hair,” she said. “Even with therapy, I couldn’t raise my arm above my head for months.”

Her husband and older children were a big help by doing the cleaning and maintaining the house.

“Len can’t cook, but he did the best he could,” she said. “My neighbors in Brownstown prepared meals and brought them to the house.”

But Lavonne wanted to make one thing clear by saying that her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ sustained her and her family through the ordeal.

“The Bible says that by Jesus’ stripes we are healed,” she said, referring to Christ’s sacrifice.

Lavonne can’t explain why she contracted the disease.

“There has never been a case of breast cancer in any of the women in my family, from my great aunts to my daughters,” she said. “My mother lived to be 90.”

Lavonne is thankful for the time God has given her to see the birth of 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Lavonne supports breast cancer research and at times she has gone door-to-door to support the effort.

When time permits, Lavonne volunteers at the Arcadia Theater in Windber.

She does advocate regular checkups to ensure early detection.

“My daughters are all grown and get mammograms regularly,” Lavonne said. “If my story helps one person to be tested and saved that person’s life, then I’m glad to share it.”

Tom Lavis covers Features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on LavisTD.


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