Jo Davis is a retired teacher, having taught at Lynchburg and Cascade Elementary schools for many years.
But work came to a halt for the Moore County native in January 2008, when she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer at the age of 54.
The cancer was detected after one of her yearly mammograms.
When the diagnosis is positive for cancer, it can be difficult. “To get that diagnosis. . . you have two kids—one’s in middle school, one’s a freshman—and all of sudden you’re facing a double mastectomy and eight chemo-treatments,” Davis said.
In March 2008, Davis had a double mastectomy. But the effects of treatment are lasting.
“It’s emotional and it’s hard on you, but it’s hard on your family as well because it becomes a new normal,” she said.
Her family—a husband of 32 years and her two grown sons—serve as her motivation. But she recalls the difficulty of not being able to take her then young sons back to school shopping, or to take care of them when one had tonsillitis.
“Things I would normally do, I couldn’t do.”
But for the rest of 2008, Davis focused on recovery, and went back to work the following January after finishing treatments. Life soon returned to normal—at least for the next decade.
Cancer, she explains, can return with a vengeance.
In January 2019, Davis said she noticed an intense burning in her right arm down to the elbow. Her initial thought was that it could be swelling lymphedema. So she went to her plastic surgeon, received an ultrasound, then went to her general surgeon for a biopsy.
“He called me and told me my cancer had returned, and it was basically where it was in 2008 when I was first diagnosed. So, it had metastasized, and I had some spots on my right lung,” she said.
So comes the bad news again—and with it, oral chemo medication.
She said cancer wasn’t prevalent in her family, but her younger sister had had a lumpectomy with no reoccurrence. And as far as they can tell, Davis’ condition is not genetic.
Still, “It is emotional to find it’s back….You’re not really prepared to receive that news again... you don’t know what to expect now because it’s not just in the breast; it’s metastasized.”
But her response: “I went on with my life,” she said.
Davis said she goes to an oncologist in Shelbyville at Tennessee Oncology, as well as receives scans in Murfreesboro.
She’s refused to let cancer consume her — even though it would be easy to do so, with scans every three months and more medications to counteract the side effects of the other medications.
“One thing does lead to another, but you have to weigh the good against the bad.”
To combat what could be a downward spiral, Davis says she likes to stay active.
“I’ve learned that if I feel like doing something, I do it. And if I don’t feel like doing it, I don’t do it.”
Her husband’s family owns and operates M&L Greenhouse. Davis said last spring she would go over early in the mornings and make container pots. Or when her sons were home during the pandemic, she would cook and stay busy with them when she at one time couldn’t.
But she will add, “There are days you may not feel like doing anything, but that’s ok.”
The most important thing to do, she said, is listen to your body.
“I think that you have to listen to your body because if I had ignored that burning in my arm, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”
She also emphasized the importance of getting a yearly mammogram. That’s why initiatives like Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October are important—to remind people of the unexpected and inform people of the unknown. (The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women ages 50 to 74--those with average risk rates--get a mammogram every 2 years.)
“A lot of people don’t understand what MBC [metastatic breast cancer] is, and they may ask how long treatment is, or say, you don’t look sick. But you’ll be on treatment of some sort for the rest of your life because this is not curable. They want to manage it.”
Most of all, Davis maintains, “You can’t let it consume you. You can’t let it be your all. So, you just have to go with the flow.”
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