For Ruby Dotson, 61, of Dickson the battle with breast cancer has happened two times, once in 2014 and once again in 2018.
Originally from Tupelo, Miss., and now living in Dickson, the divorced mother of two has three grandchildren.
“One thing I’ve learned is that I’m very strong,” Dotson said. “I’ve never known anybody that experienced breast cancer, and no one else in my family. My mother died from lung cancer, but she smoked.”
For her first bout with the disease in 2014, she said something had shown up on her mammogram.
“I was given a choice to either have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy,” she said. “And I chose a bilateral mastectomy meaning they would take both breasts. They told me that if I did see an oncologist that I would more or less took care of the problem by having the mastectomy, which was evidently not so because the cancer came back again in 2018.
“So, I was actually having some pain in the same left breast area as four years before. I called my surgeon, and she got me in to have a mammogram and an ultrasound. They found a spot again in the same breast, same area.”
She noted that in 2014 she had reconstructive surgery after the bilateral mastectomy.
For the second bout, she didn’t start chemotherapy until January of this year, which included four treatments of chemotherapy and 25 treatments of radiation.
She said there were no treatments in 2014 because both breasts were removed via the bilateral mastectomy, adding that the chemo she has experienced makes her feel very weak and that radiation causes some fatigue.
“I never really looked at it as a being a life-threatening disease, which I know it is,” she said. “But I just saw it as something that just happened to me, and I’ll just have to go through it, be strong and pray about it, and I’ll get through it. It’s true that it’s more life-changing than life-threatening because it has changed my life forever.”
She noted that she checks in every three months with her oncologist and will be continuing that for several years.
“I’m also on a prescribed hormone receptor for five years,” she said. “It’s a pill I take every day because my cancer was estrogen fed; so, this pill is supposed to help block the estrogen.”
Dotson said the battles with cancer have taught her many positive lessons to share.
“Both of my cancers were early-detected, so mammograms are very important,” she said. “Early detection is absolutely critical. I believe it’s why I’m still here today.”
She also points out the value of maintaining a good, positive attitude as well as a commitment to staying focused and strong.
“Support from friends, family, coworkers is very important,” she said. “If it wasn’t for my family and friends, I don’t know what I would have done. It has also made me think about what’s really important to me in life. Plus, didn’t realize how many friends I have who are so supportive.”
Dotson also enjoys her family of friends at Dickson Athletic where she has attended Zumba classes and other workout activities for 12 years.
“They even had a little benefit for me,” she said, adding that her coworkers at Morrison and Fuson Insurance Agency in Dickson, where she has been a customer service representative for 17 years, have also been very encouraging, affirming, and supportive.
“You know, through it all, I’ve never thought about the fear of dying; and not all afraid for my life,” she said. “I thought I’ve done this once, and I can do it again. And if it happens again, I’ll go through it again. That’s why I say you have to be strong, and you have to be positive. I know several women that are going through cancer treatment now, and I’ve reached out to them.”
She added that she has two sisters, Becky and Debbie, who have provided a great, positive support system, along with the support of her daughter, Lyndsey, and her son, Joshua.
“Lyndsey went with me to most of my appointments and chemo,” she said, adding that as a precaution, Lyndsey has been tested and is fine.
Her son, Joshua, has also helped out around the house since the chemo started.
Dotson has three grandchildren who have been a huge inspiration and support —Jack, 14, Milam, 10, and Audrey, 9.
“They are probably the highlight of my life,” Dotson said. “If I have a bad day or problem, it’s gone because they are loved so much. Audrey asked a lot of questions. When I started losing my hair, she didn’t want to see it, so wore a turban to cover it when she was around.”
In assessing her two-time journey, she has some key advice to share.
“Get a mammogram annually and do a self-check for any lumps,” she said. “Early detection is the key.”
Dotson also sees a number of lessons and advice that the battle with cancer has taught her. “I now approach things differently,” she said. “What matters most is happiness and gratitude. Life is far too short, so be happy and enjoy it to the fullest.”