Breast cancer survivor Janet Malloy has had her share of problems—but she recogniz- es that they have prepared her to actively help others. In fact, she stresses that the reason for sharing her story is to reach others with useful information based on her own experience— information that may spare them from the same consequences.
Originally from Maryland, Malloy and her husband William relocated to Arkansas as a result of fate taking a hand and altering their plans. Avid travelers, the retired Malloys were visiting in Arkansas with their RV, when William suffered a heart attack in 1996. Within 15 days, he suffered a second heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Little Rock.
“I guess it was a blessing that we were here when it happened, because we got the best of healthcare,” says Malloy. “I had worked in the medical field all my life and I knew that our hometown was not the best place to be if something happened to my husband; this was where we were going to stay.
“So we sold our house in Maryland and bought one here. It used to take us three hours to get to the airport—here, it’s 35 minutes to the airport, and we’re close to UAMS, St. Vincent’s, and Baptist Hospital.”
Malloy’s own health problems became serious when a lump she discovered in 2000 was identified as cancerous, and resulted in a major biopsy that removed three lymph nodes and created a large concavity in her left breast, leaving painful scar tissue.
A year later, while wintering in Florida, Malloy spent time gardening, weeding and working with her arms exposed to the foliage and thorns. Two days later, her arm suddenly began swelling painfully. Since she had previously had other symptoms, Malloy had already visited doctors and had a full complement of allergy tests done—and results appeared normal. Even a trip to the emergency room because of sudden breathing problems only further puzzled doctors.
Malloy was advised to fly home immediately to Arkansas to her own doctor. Because an anomaly had formed beneath her skin, extending from underarm to groin, Malloy endured another biopsy before visiting her oncologist who finally diagnosed the problem: A lymph node in her groin had collapsed, and Malloy was suffering the painful and persistent symptoms of lymphedema.
“I wouldn’t have had that second biopsy, or all this mess that I have been going through, if someone had told me about lymphedema and what can happen as a result of the removal of lymph nodes,” Malloy believes.
Two years ago, the breast cancer returned in Malloy’s other breast, and she elected to have both breasts removed. But it’s the lymphedema that continues to cause her problems. She had therapy; she learned how to keep the swelling down, and wore a compression sleeve and glove for over a year. “It was very painful; you feel like you’re burning up,” she explains, “with the fluid, the swelling, the heat, and trying to get cool.”
She learned massage techniques. She learned and still performs therapeutic exercises. But despite her efforts and her care, it remains a troublesome issue. “Women have to be very careful about medication and lymphedema; when my cholesterol medication was adjusted recently, within a week my lymphedema started to go wild. I had to go back for therapy again, and started wearing my sleeve and glove and doing massage.”
Malloy hopes her experience will serve as a cautionary tale for other women undergoing breast surgery and related lymph node removal, and she actively promotes the need for lymphe- dema education.
Likewise, Malloy gained priceless experience fighting her way through forests of red tape to file claims and appeals—and eventually win ap- propriate compensation—for her retired military husband following his heart attacks and surgery. Currently, she is a member of the Veterans of Vietnam War, Inc., a veteran’s coalition based in Pennsylvania, and she applies her knowledge as a national veteran’s service officer.
“In 1993 I started getting into the paperwork, doing research and filing claims and seeing what they were doing to these veterans. Ever so often, I’d run into a veteran that needed help with a claim.”
Now, as a volunteer, she acts as advocate, advisor, and aide, helping veterans across the country who don
’t know how to file claims, and often aren’t even aware that help exists for them.
“It’s like me with the lymphedema—I just hadn’t been told, and I’m so upset about that.” Her main concern focuses on her need to educate women about lymphedema—precautions to take, and what to watch out for.
“I think education is a must. When you get a new pill—they give you the contraindications; why don
’t doctors warn you about lymphedema? Having experienced it myself, I would not wish this problem on anyone.”
Malloy’s doctor referred her to Snell Laboratory for her initial fitting for breast prostheses, and she has been returning for follow-up
and additional services since then.
“Beth (Williams) is just a sweetheart. I feel very comfortable around her; I can discuss anything with her and fitting has never been a problem— she has always done very well. She’s also the one who fitted me for my first lymphedema sleeve and glove, and I don
’t go anywhere else.
“Beth is also very upset that we’re not getting lymphedema education. It’s preventable. The doctors tell her that they don
’t want to worry breast cancer patients about what else could happen; but I’d rather read about it and know what not to do, and maybe never get it.”
Malloy recently had a total knee replacement, but tries to stay active, attending diabetic classes at the VA with her husband, and walking with him every evening. “I’m finally getting around Wal-mart three times, now,” she announces.
And she continues to keep busy representing her veterans: “I fight for every dollar I can get for them—money that they are in need of. They keep me going, and help me realize that there are always people worse off than I. I would rather be a breast cancer survivor than suffering from some of the illnesses and injuries that our veterans have to deal with for a lifetime.”
Malloy also expresses gratitude to her spouse of 43 years: “My husband has been my rock—he is always there to take care of me. When he learned that I had to have my breasts removed, he said he’d rather have part of me, and have me healthy.”
The Malloys have four surviving grown sons, one daughter, and ten grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Thank you to Beth at Snell Laboratory and to all my doctors, that I am here enjoying life to the fullest,” concludes Malloy.