By Margaret Maynard
For The Herald Bulletin
— This is the second of four stories that will publish in October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month detailing the stories of breast cancer survivors.
ANDERSON — Toni Cantrell has been writing since she was 12 years old. It has been the one constant in her life and has helped carry her through the tough times.
She and Manuel, her husband of 58 years, have two sons, two grandchildren and one great-grandson. She worked at Pay Less for 25 years, then Elder-Beerman before retiring from Core Source in 2000.
"I hadn't had a mammogram in years," Cantrell said, "and that little voice in my head, which I consider the Holy Spirit, kept saying, 'get a mammogram' over and over again. Finally, I listened and got a mammogram on Sept. 28, 2000. Thank God I listened. A small spot was found in my breast about the size of the tip of my little finger. In six months I was to come back for another mammogram. The spot hadn't changed much but was slightly bigger."
After a core biopsy was done April 23, 2001, Cantrell was told the small lump was malignant and that she had Stage IV cancer. "On April 30, I had a lumpectomy," Cantrell said. A biopsy was also done on the master lymph node near her breast, but no cancer cells were found.
Suggested treatment included chemotherapy and radiation. "Between June and September 2001, I had six chemo treatments, one about every two weeks, unless my white blood cell count was too low," she said. "If it was, then I couldn't have chemo that day."
"From October to December 2001, I had 31 radiation treatments," she added. "During my first visit, they made a mold for me to lay in while having the treatments. I had to lay with my arm up and above my head and my body twisted in such a way, it would have been impossible to lay still for any length of time, plus it would have been very uncomfortable."
Sometimes she would think, "Why me, Lord?" but would then think "Why not, you?"
The radiation treatments stopped just before Christmas 2001. After that, Cantrell had a mammogram every six months.
"After five years with no sign of any further problem, I was told that my breast cancer was in remission," said Cantrell.
She praised her oncologist, Dr. Brian Eddy, at Saint John's Cancer Center (now St. Vincent Anderson Regional), as well as his staff and all the nurses who worked in chemo and radiation. "They were all wonderful to me," said Cantrell.
During her treatment, Cantrell went through a period where she cried easily and quite often. She talked to her minister about it. Having been a medic in the Marine Corps, he told her it sounded like she was depressed. "I talked to my family doctor and he prescribed an anti-depressant, which I took for about a year during my chemo and radiation and it really helped," Cantrell said.
"I was in the process of getting my first book published close to the time I was diagnosed with breast cancer," she said. "Once I received the galley proofs in the mail and I could see my writing in book form, I cried."
Cantrell's newly published book, "Strangers and Pilgrims," helped her get through her treatments. "I was promoting my book during that period of time and would take copies of it with me to my treatments. I sold a lot of books," said Cantrell.
She kept busy working on some of her other books. "Now I have six published books," she said. "I have one coming out in November and two more next year. I also have several others I'm working on that are still on my computer."
Cantrell's books are all fiction. "It's a lot easier to make things up than it is to write about real life," she said.
Another source of support for her was Writers Inc. of Central Indiana, a group she has been a part of since 1994, when it started as a creative writing class. They meet on Thursday evenings at New Horizon United Methodist Church on 53rd Street.
"I received support from family and friends, our minister and church (Landmark Missionary Baptist Church)," Cantrell said. "Everyone was wonderful."
"A cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence," she said, "even though it used to be. I thank God I listened to that voice telling me to get a mammogram, since my breast cancer was caught early."
"I came to the Lord late in life," said Cantrell, "in the late 1980s. I was looking for something, I didn't know what, but I found it when I walked into our church. I found the Lord and the Lord found me."