By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times
Jackie Thrasher was a busy wife and school teacher in 2004, when, like a bolt out of the blue, her routine mammogram came back positive.
“I was in shock,” Jackie recalled.
Her husband, Lavell, was walking through the kitchen and noticed the stunned look on his wife’s face. When she got off the phone they just held each other for a long while. Finally she found the strength to tell him what she had just learned.
“The mammogram showed something suspicious,” she said. “So the doctor called me himself and answered all my questions. There is a part of you that always has that small pocket of fear when this happens, but it was still a shock to hear the words.”
Jackie’s mother, Edythe Vickers, had breast cancer in her early 60s. “Mother told them that if they found even one single cancerous cell that she wanted them to remove her whole breast,” she recalled.
Jackie originally started out at the Cancer Care Center in Huntsville, but when she learned that there was a doctor in Cullman who might be able to treat her, she had them check him out.
“They came back and reported to me that Dr. Vince Karolewics was doing the same things they were doing and that his equipment was the same as theirs,” she said.
That made her decision simple — it would be so much easier on the Thrashers to have her treatments at home in Cullman. Jackie chose to have a lumpectomy. Her tumor was about 2 centimeters in diameter. She never could feel it herself.
“There would be days when I wanted to cry,” she admitted. “But I found out that it really helps to be around positive people.”
“A husband has one job at a time like this — to be as supportive as possible for his wife, and that is the most valuable thing I could do,” said Lavell.
“Some days it would bother me to see her getting up and getting ready for school (Jackie taught at East Elementary for 36 years) knowing that her radiation burns had to be painful, but she never missed one, single day. In the afternoons she would go back for more radiation,” he marveled.
The couple learned more about breast cancer than they ever wanted to know. “We got books and did our research,” said Lavell. “We found out that it empowered us to know what to expect.”
Throughout Jackie’s journey with cancer and the year of treatments that followed, Lavell became extremely focused on her. “I was highly concerned and made my main focus getting her through it. I have to stop here to say that Dr. Karolewics is a great physician, who demonstrates the highest level of expertise and professional competency,” praised Lavell. “He also has the latest equipment available for treating his patients.”
Both of the Thrashers want to reiterate how important it is for women to do self-examinations. “Early detection is the key to treating cancer successfully,” said Lavell. “People who find cancer early can certainly move through it, deal with it, put it in the rearview mirror and get on with their lives.”
Jackie was treated with Arimidex, which played havoc with her joints, but she persevered to make sure the cancer was gone. Now she is on Tamoxifen, which has fewer side effects.
The ordeal has made the Thrashers stronger as a couple. Today they are enjoying life. They have taken trips to every national park in the United States, to Alaska, Ireland and next plan to go to Italy. They are both certified Master Gardeners, and are active in their church.
Jackie is a member of Reach for Recovery, which interacts with new breast cancer patients, helping them to cope with their cancer in the most productive ways.