- Cullman, Alabama

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October 22, 2013

Through his eyes: A husband’s account of breast cancer

Although females are the primary victims of breast cancer, Good Hope resident Frank Hinkle has experienced the side effects second hand, as he watched the disease create turmoil and misery in the lives of several women he loved dearly.

Many have fought the potentially terminal battle and won, but for every victory, there is a defeat. Although 80-year-old Hinkle has never had cancer, he’s been battling it for nearly half his life.

“My wife Flora was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 so we went to Birmingham and started doing chemotherapy,” Frank said. “She had one breast removed and it looked like it had done away with the cancer.  My sister at the time also had breast cancer and she had both of her breasts removed. My wife’s doctor then advised her to have her other breast removed and they rebuilt them from fat in her stomach.”

 In 1996, Frank said Flora began having trouble with her left arm, and they ventured out to multiple doctors seeking answers and relief.

 “We visited all kinds of clinics for the spine, shoulder, and arm. We went through that for about a year and then decided to have surgery on her spine after visiting with a spine doctor. After meeting with him and getting ready for surgery, he came in to talk with us and said, ‘I’ve been praying all day about this, but I don’t think this surgery is going to fix your problem.’”

They initiated more tests, specifically pain tests to designate the origin of where the pain was stemming from, and much like the doctor thought, it was not from the original area they thought and were planning to perform surgery on.  

“We realized that it was cancer, again,” Frank said. “The cancer was in a nerve that controlled her arm and he couldn’t do surgery on it and remove that nerve because it would paralyze her arm completely. So we started going to Kirkland Clinic again and took on chemo a second time... She battled that cancer for three years. None of the chemo was helping and she wasn’t getting better. Then we found out that the cancer had spread to her brain and we knew we just had to make her comfortable. She passed away three weeks later in February of 1999. We were married 40 and a half years.”

Flora was 59-years-old when she was diagnosed with cancer and 66-years-old when she lost the fight.

After Frank lost his wife, he waited four years and married his second wife, Sandra in 2003 and they recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary. Frank’s strength would be tested a second time in 2008 as his wife of five years, 66-year-old Sandra, was diagnosed with breast and colon cancer.

“Sandra was diagnosed with cancer and they removed the lump from her breast and also did radiation,” Frank said, “They also removed part of her colon and did chemotherapy. She didn’t have to have a mastectomy, and thankfully hasn’t had any reoccurring issues from it since.”

Breast cancer devours life, whether it be physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. A support system for those diagnosed is often described as the best medicine. For Frank, he knew he had to be a teammate, a backbone and an optimist for his first wife Flora, and his current wife, Sandra.

“You have to be really supportive and encourage them in the best way that you can,” Frank said. “It’s hard to see them struggle and know they are suffering, but it’s even harder to lose them. I’m not strong, but you find a way to be for them.”

 In 2013, it’s estimated that 232,340 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 39,620 of those diagnosed will perish in the fight. Breast cancer is a fireball of misery and heartache, crushing the human spirit, removing a woman’s hope, confidence, and femininity and often replacing it with doubt, fear, and depression.

Flora and Frank’s granddaughter Haley Terry said the couple were teammates in every game life threw at them, and specifically referenced Flora’s Mary Kay business.

“My nanny was a Mary Kay director and when she became sick, he took over the business so she wouldn’t lose it and they did it all together,” Terry said. “After she passed, he felt he couldn’t let her or her customers down, so he kept going with it for a long time. Once, he was queen of sales in his division. Their faith was also integral.”

 Terry shared her belief that caretakers often downplay their strength, but are in fact fighting just as hard as the person who is sick.

“He held her hand for every part of it; Her fight was his fight,” Terry said. “People who don’t have support often fair much worse because no one is pushing them. The caretakers give that support to keep fighting, but also to come home and cry it out, be angry, and be disappointed with them. They let them have emotions, but then say, ‘let’s fight some more.’ I believe God allows people to have battles. He allowed my grandmother and Sandra not only because of their faith and strength, but because of my grandfathers, too. God knew he could hold them up for the fight for their lives. My grandmother got her reward and when my grandfather gets there, his will be just as great or maybe better because he had to mourn and grieve after she was gone. I was 11-years-old when she passed, and I still remember how much he supported her. If a fifth grader noticed, you know it was impressive.”

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