Vickie Hull knows first-hand life is not always easy, especially when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer—twice. But she also knows that a positive attitude is vital for continuing to live life to the fullest.
“The first time I was told I had breast cancer was in 2008. It was discovered on a routine mammogram. We had just moved into a new home. My oldest daughter had just graduated high school and had just left for college; my youngest daughter was starting kindergarten.”
She knew her life was about to change.
“It felt like someone had punched me. It took a few minutes to even process what they were saying. I was by myself in the room with my mother, waiting in the car.”
She had experienced cysts before, she said, so she naturally assumed that condition had returned.
“Realizing that I now had to tell my family was worse then the initial shock of finding out myself.”
Bedford County native
Vickie grew up right in this county; she calls this home. She’s been married to her husband, Danny for 24 years; they have three “beautiful” daughters, Meghan, Anna Claire and Tori. Meghan is married to Brad Brown; they have two “most adorable children in the world,” Amory and Waylon.
She works professionally, though on leave at the moment, as a First Community Bank loan officer.
“I absolutely love my job,” she said. “They have been wonderful to me during my cancer journey when it returned and became Metastatic Breast Cancer.”
She said she misses her co-workers and the customers. She is not sure when she’ll return to the bank.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control.
The kind of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer and it can begin in different parts of the breast.
A breast is made up of three main parts: lobules, ducts, and connective tissue. The lobules are the glands that produce milk. The ducts are tubes that carry milk to the nipple. The connective tissue (which consists of fibrous and fatty tissue) surrounds and holds everything together. Most breast cancers begin in the ducts or lobules.
Breast cancer can spread outside the breast through blood vessels and lymph vessels. When breast cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it is said to have metastasized.
Vickie understands this term all too well.
Vickie knows routine checkups are vital. That may include a mammogram and depending on age, every couple of years.
“I have been having routine mammograms since I was 30, due to a cyst that I found during a self-examination. I always performed self-examinations monthly. Once the breast cancer was diagnosed, I had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and four founds of chemo to make sure that it did not come back.”
She was in Stage 1 and her lymph nodes were clear, but she wanted to do as much as possible, she said, to make sure there was no cancer left.
“I was told that I had a 98 percent cure rate for 5 years. What I did not pay attention to was the timeline. I was told by many that once you hit the 5-year mark, you were home free.”
Vickie said she found out that was not always the case.
“In 2017, after 9 years of being cancer-free, I felt a twinge in my left breast and during a self-examination, discovered a small lump. I call my oncologist the next morning and she got me in that day. I had surgery to remove the lump and it came back that it was cancer, but was localized and had not spread anywhere else.”
She breathed a sigh of relief.
“I had 33 rounds of radiation and again, I thought I was good.”
In January 2019, after having some back pain for about a month, Vickie visited a clinic and had an MRI.
“When I went for the results . . . just thinking I had maybe a bulging disc. I was told my L3 had compressed and that he was sure that my cancer had returned in this area and I had spots on several other vertebrae.”
She was a Metastatic Breast Cancer patient, which meant although it was located in other areas of the body, it’s still considered breast cancer.
“I have been on several different treatments since then and it was discovered in March of 2020 that I also had lesions in my liver. I am currently participating in a trial that has improved the liver lesions and kept my bones stable. I am receiving IV treatments and adjusting to the side effects.”
As a Metastatic Breast Cancer patient, she will always be on some form of treatment. But, she’s still smiling.
“We are never considered cured and stable or reduced is great! Some do reach the ultimate goal of No Evidence of Active Disease, but it could rear its ugly head at any time.”
Vickie said she still considers herself, despite her condition, “a very happy person” and she tries not to get depressed about her health.
“I am blessed and try to live my life to the fullest and plan on being here for many years to come. You just try to get as long as you can from each treatment, before you have to switch to something else, because the cancer has found a way to become resistant to the treatment. There are new treatments that are begin developed and for that, I am truly grateful, but more research is needed.”
Advice to others
Vickie said definitely believes in taking the time for breast self-examinations and mammograms. She also advises that no breast cancer patient should bet complacent about continuing regular checkups with their doctor.
She tells others if they have a pain or something doesn’t feel just right, they should call their oncologist and tell them.
One of the statistics she said she still finds “mind-blowing” is that 20-30% of patients who have been diagnosed with an earlier stage of breast cancer will experience metastasis and progress to stage IV months, years, or even decades later.
And of the breast cancer research funds, a very small percentage goes toward Metastatic Breast Cancer, she advised.
Breast cancer pink
“I wore lots of pink during the month of October for years, when I thought I had beat it. There is a Metastatic Breast Cancer ribbon that was developed by Metavivor and is green, teal and pink.”
She explains the green represents the triumph of spring over winter, life over death and symbolizes renewal, hope and immortality.
Teal symbolizes healing and spirituality. The pink ribbon overlay signifies that the metastatic cancer originated in the breast.
“I still wear pink and will always be a pink supporter, but I also want to spread the word that there is a different layer to breast cancer when it has become stage IV and that awareness and research funds are so desperately needed for Metastatic Breast Cancer.”
Vickie continues to be involved in her community; she recently received a pin recognizing her as a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow Plus 1 for donations of more than $2,000 to the Rotary Foundation.
“I have always tried to stay involved in my community and support all of the activities that my children were win and now, my grandchildren.”
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