Cancer — no one does this alone

By From page A1 | October 16, 2013


NIKKI PARR holds her 2-year-old son Gavin near their home in Pilot Hill. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

For Nikki Parr, every month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The 28-year-old mother from Pilot Hill is undergoing treatment for Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma — breast cancer. On this unexpected journey, she has discovered resources she had no idea were available to her and made friends she never knew existed.

“My breast cancer journey began in July of 2012 at the age of 27,” wrote Parr in a synopsis of her story. “I was taking a shower and felt a lump above my right nipple. A small voice whispered ‘breast cancer.’”

Parr ignored the small voice. It was a bad year and she didn’t have time to be sick. She had two young children, Mariah, now 4, and Gavin, who is now 2. Gavin had just been diagnosed with autism and her husband, Christopher, was in a rehab clinic with alcohol abuse. “I was only 27 and had no medical insurance. I thought cancer couldn’t happen to a young mother who breast-fed both babies. I was so wrong.”

The lump grew over the course of a year and it began to hurt. A fellow employee at Holiday Market in Cool told Parr she needed to get it checked.

“I called the Divide Wellness Clinic in Georgetown and they got me in the next day,” said Parr. “Dr. Beth Gerkhan recommended an ultrasound, which was paid for by the Susan G. Komen Foundation and, after the results came in, a biopsy was scheduled at Marshall Medical Center.”

On June 25, 2013, Parr found out that she had cancer. “I got off the phone and cried all day.It’s not a genetic or hormonal-caused cancer,” said Parr. “They think it might be environmental. It had invaded other tissue through my lymph nodes.”

After discussing a lumpectomy with Dr. Locke of Marshall Medical, Parr opted for a radical mastectomy of both breasts, including some lymph nodes, on July 16.

“I have a 2- and a 4-year-old. I did not want to take any risks. I realized that day that I had a fight coming for my life and I was determined to win. I lost my breasts that day, but gained my life back,” said Parr.

Waiting to have the lump checked out caused the cancer to spread, said Parr. Eight out of 10 lymph nodes came back positive for HER2/NEU cancer. “I wouldn’t have waited if I’d known about the programs available to help,” she said.

Resources available

Sandy, at Divide Wellness, helped Parr learn about the resources available in El Dorado County; the Marshall Medical Foundation helped her with Medi-Cal and the cost of a PET scan. “The PET scan in September came back clean,” said Parr. “The cancer hasn’t traveled because we got it in the nick of time. Now, we’re going for a cure.”

Parr is undergoing a year of chemotherapy and then a course of radiation. She’s lost her hair, but found a support system. “Carol Case, the breast cancer patient navigator, called me the day I was diagnosed,” said Parr. “She and all of the other women at Marshall’s Cancer Resource Center have been so amazing and helpful.”

At the Cancer Resource Center, Parr took a class to learn all about chemotherapy and what to expect; she got a wig from them when her hair fell out; she wears a pink hat knitted by the El Dorado Hills knitting group that donates hats to the center; she’s taking other classes in how to look good and feel good — and she’s giving back.

“I went online to the Horses and Angels Website and they donated a dozen hats, so I took them to the center for other people,” said Parr.

She’s also gone into the community for donations of hats and scarves for other cancer patients. “The center isn’t just for breast cancer patients — it’s for anyone with any kind of cancer,” said Parr. “I have met so many amazing, inspiring women there and the Cancer Center will help with anything.”

Support system

Another huge part of her support system is Helen, the oncology nurse who is a breast cancer survivor herself, the Cool Community Church, Parr’s parents who live in Georgetown, her friends, fellow employees at Holiday Market and her Hooter Ladies support group, started by breast cancer survivors Charlie Hall and Fay Alexander.

“No one gets through this alone,” said Parr. She cherishes the church that helps with babysitting and makes meals for the family; the medical professionals who saved her life and brought her comfort in this tough time and the Hooter Ladies for their inspiring stories.

Christopher Parr is now a year sober and his wife’s biggest supporter. Both Mariah and Gavin know about their mother’s cancer. “Gavin doesn’t really understand, but Mariah does,” said Parr. “I was very honest with her — you have to be with kids, especially when you have no boobs and no hair, but I let her know that I’m going to be all right.”

Plans for the future

Parr is planning to go to Sierra College in the spring of 2014 to become an oncology nurse. “I was planning to do this before, but with two small children, I decided to wait,” said Parr. “Now, I’m eager to go and I want to work at Marshall someday.”

One thing Parr said she has learned from the journey is to take care of herself as well as her family and she feels there is a better balance now.

“Cancer is not a death sentence; it’s a new beginning. I just want young women to realize that breast cancer can happen to them,” Parr said. She said incidence of breast cancer is on the rise with young women.

Her message is simple: “Don’t wait. Even if you have no insurance, don’t wait. There are many programs available to help you in our county. Be proactive about your health and don’t take it for granted.

“I take my journey day by day, step by step. It is a long, rough road, but I know I will live because the same voice that told me I had cancer made me a promise that I would be OK.”

For more information about resources available in El Dorado County for cancer patients, contact the Marshall Medical Center Cancer Resource Center at 530-672-7050 or Wendy Goossen, director of cancer services, at [email protected] Marshall Medical Center also has a limited number of free screening mammograms for eligible patients. Contact it at 530-672-7050.

Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.

Wendy Schultz

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