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A Masterpiece of Love



When Theresa Larson stepped out of the shower that morning in 2007, she knew exactly who she needed to call.

She’d just done her monthly self breast-exam and noticed a change. She immediately called Sanford Breast Health in Fargo.

“Part of me kept saying this can’t be cancer. My mom had just been diagnosed with melanoma, my husband had been treated for Hodgkin’s disease, how could it be my turn? It just didn’t seem right,” she says.

The next-day appointment included a mammogram -- a key tool in detecting breast cancer early, when it’s treatable and often curable. Theresa’s mammogram showed a suspicious area, prompting more tests and a biopsy.

Then came two difficult days of waiting.

What if?

Thoughts reeled through her mind. Then age 38, Theresa and her husband, Jim, hoped to have a third child. Would that dream vanish?

What about their two young children? After Jim’s aggressive but successful Hodgkin’s treatment five years earlier, it was such a blessing to have a family. How long would she be able to care for them?

And would cancer affect her career? She was an infusion nurse at Roger Maris Cancer Center.

Theresa put a stop to the endless unanswered questions. Instead she spent the next two days having fun with her kids and mom They even picked up a 1,000 piece puzzle.

“That puzzle ended up being so therapeutic,” she says. “We set it up in the dining room, and whenever my mind started going places I didn’t want it to go, we’d sit down and work on it. Family, friends, whoever was there would join me. You have to focus on the pieces -- nothing else. You’re working, yet you’re together. The silence was a comfort.”

Answers emerge

The biopsy showed cancer.

“I was prepared,” says Theresa. “And I knew the next step.”

In the days that followed she met with specialists at Roger Maris Cancer Center including a breast cancer surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist. Theresa gained a good understanding of the treatment options available to her.

“One option was a lumpectomy and radiation therapy, but I chose a mastectomy,” she says. “That’s what I felt most comfortable with.”

Successful surgery took place three weeks after the biopsy, then came healing. Nerve pain in her back was one of the challenges. Her commitment to the prescribed exercises brought improvement.

Her body image needed healing, too. “I’d force myself to stand in front of the mirror and look at the indentation where my breast used to be,” she says. “I needed to accept what happened, who I am and that it’s okay.”

She also had to accept the fact that she would not have a third child. Her type of breast cancer required a year of hormone-suppressing medication followed by a hysterectomy.

“Not being able to have more kids -- that’s the issue I really struggled with,” she says. “In some ways my new job became my third child.” Today Theresa oversees clinic operations for several departments including the infusion center at Roger Maris.

Good self-care includes mammograms

Cancer free for five years, Theresa takes excellent care of her health, including her yearly mammograms.

“I’m not wild about mammograms -- nobody is, but that’s no reason not to get them,” she says. “If I hadn’t been offered that mammogram five years ago, I hate to think what would’ve happened to me.”

Sanford follows the American Cancer Society recommendation: annual mammograms beginning at age 40. Women who are at increased risk may need to follow closer guidelines.

A book -- and a masterpiece

Theresa’s survivorship included helping a close friend fight her own battle with breast cancer. When the friend realized she was going to die, she asked Theresa to find a book to help her two young daughters. Unable to find a book, Theresa wrote one herself.

“My friend wanted her children to know that though they wouldn’t see her anymore, they could still love her and talk to her. She’d still be in their hearts,” says Theresa.

The book -- “Mommy Loves You Bunches and Bunches” -- went on to help many more families. It now sells at bookstores and online.

And that puzzle Theresa started back when she was diagnosed? Completed! The puzzle depicts a summer scene of a girl floating on an inner-tube.

“It’s on my wall and I see it every day,” says Theresa. “It’s a masterpiece of everybody who supported me. When I add the caption, it’ll be ‘The Miracle of Friends and Family.’”

One more miracle…

Edith Sanford Breast Cancer lifts up Theresa and all whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. Discover this initiative’s bold approach to end breast cancer once and for all...

Posted Date: October 2012

A Masterpiece of Love

Theresa Larson’s astuteness led to a mammogram -- and that’s exactly what she needed to detect breast cancer early. Today she urges women 40 and over: Get your yearly mammogram!