Blair woman finds support from family, friends while battling breast cancer
Blair resident Teri Jo O'Dell got out of bed on Sept. 15, 2018, to head to a family member's house for a Husker game when she felt a lump in one of her breasts.
"I was familiar with the way my breasts felt because my sister died of breast cancer, and she felt her lump with a self exam as well," O'Dell said. "I tell everybody. Do your self exams."
Two days later, though she wasn't scheduled for a mammogram for a few more weeks, O'Dell said she was calling her doctor. Because of her family history, O'Dell's doctor said she needed to come in for testing. Four days from finding the lump, she had a 3D mammogram and an ultrasound. The ultrasound showed three dense tumors in one of her breasts. About a week later, O'Dell had a biopsy.
"I got the results, and they said it was cancer," she said. "It was the most aggressive form of breast cancer that there is."
O'Dell was diagnosed with metaplastic breast cancer, an aggressive and rare form of cancer that accounts for fewer than one percent of all breast cancers, according to the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. Eight weeks after O'Dell first felt the lump, it had grown from marble size to larger than a golf ball.
But a year after receiving her diagnosis, having surgery and receiving treatments, O'Dell is in remission. Though it was an often difficult battle with the disease, she said she's come away from the experience with a couple of realizations.
"It changes your body dramatically. It takes away, but it gives a lot," O'Dell said.
O'Dell said she had tremendous support from family and friends over the past year. They were there for her, she said, when she had a double mastectomy in November 2018 to remove both of her breasts and the muscle and tissue around her chest.
"I had talked to my surgeon and decided to take both breasts instead of one," O'Dell said. "I didn't want to have to go through this again."
She said her family and friends were also there for her throughout 16 weekly rounds of chemotherapy followed by 32 straight days of radiation.
"I had just got my daycare up and running when I got diagnosed, and it was heartbreaking because I didn't have any other income," she said. "My boyfriend stepped up to the plate, my family stepped up to the plate. I had 16 rounds of chemo and never had the same person take me twice."
Friends she hadn't talked to in years reached out in support.
"They came and visited me, they would call me, and they would text me," O'Dell said.
O'Dell, the youngest of nine children, said one of her sisters told her she affected a lot of lives. O'Dell said she didn't have a fear of interacting with people, but she didn't like to be the center of attention either, so she'd thought of her circle as pretty small.
"I didn't realize how many people I had influenced until I got cancer and they came out of the wall," she said. "I felt so blessed because I didn't know, and now I do."
Now, O'Dell said, she makes a point to reach out to everyone who was there for her.
"Because time, you just don't know," she said. "When you die, nobody's going to say, 'Oh, your house was super, super clean.' They're going to say, 'She came and visited me.'"
O'Dell said her battle with breast cancer made her realize what was important in life, so she doesn't "sweat the small stuff" anymore.
"The trash is overflowing, 'Well, it will get taken out,'" she said. "I used to sweat a lot of the small stuff, and I just don't anymore. It will get done or that bill will get paid. It makes you realize what's important."
But, because metaplastic breast cancer has a higher recurrence rate than other forms of cancer, she said she continues to fear it will come back.
"The worst thing about beating cancer … you're happy you beat it, whatever, but you live with the fear every day that it's going to come back," she said.
But she said she takes reassurance from her family, friends and her doctor.
"My doctor said, 'Now, remember I have a patient that has the same type, and they're eight years out,' so that kind of gives me hope," O'Dell said.
As will soon be permanently inked on her ankle, O'Dell said she's a survivor.
"The week before chemo started, I got a pink ribbon tattoo. The tattoo artist said, 'When you're done with your treatment, you come back and see me and we'll put survivor across there,'" she said. "So that's what I'm going to do."