A survivor of two cancers carries on with business as usual
Focused on Health - June 2009
By Rachel Winters
Fe Crawford, 71, felt like she had "graduated" – the breast cancer that brought her and her family from the Philippines to M. D. Anderson in 1990 had been in remission for four years.
Her new life in Houston, Texas, was good. She was working as a nurse, raising a family, and busy with church and volunteering at M. D. Anderson. But just when life seemed normal again, Fe began to experience shortness of breath.
"I called my doctor," Fe says. "I told him, 'Something is not right.'”
She went to M. D. Anderson the following day. Seven days later, Fe was undergoing surgery for a suspicious new lung lesion. The lesion was diagnosed as lung cancer, and it was completely independent of the breast cancer Fe had before.
Although Fe was devastated that she had to go through her second battle with cancer, she had faith in her ability to fight it and managed to keep a positive outlook on the life she hoped she would continue to live for many happy, healthy years.
“I am going to lick this thing” Fe told herself in 1994.
She has now been cancer-free for fifteen years.
Life Before Cancer
Before either cancer diagnosis, Fe had made two important decisions about protecting herself from cancer.
Fe quit smoking in 1982, almost thirteen years before she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She quit because her children returned home from their school’s health education classes with pictures of dirty lungs and begged her to stop. Although she quit long before her diagnosis, she believes that her cancer was due, in part, to not having had a healthy lifestyle earlier in life.
“My lifestyle used to be cigarette in one hand and cocktail in another,” says Fe. “I smoked for 20 or 30 years, which I think contributed to my cancer. But I also believe that if I had continued to smoke, I might not have beaten my lung cancer.”
Her second step toward protecting herself from cancer was that she paid attention to any changes in her breast and had annual mammograms. In fact, it was in the shower while Fe was examining her breasts that led her to detect her breast cancer early enough to save her own life.
“Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t do much in the way of eating well or exercising,” Fe says. “I felt like I was invincible, and was always too busy doing other things and raising four kids. Now, I’ve learned that small steps, like being aware of my breasts and looking for changes, as well as, quitting smoking, saved my life, and I have adopted a much healthier lifestyle overall.”
Fe’s Commitment to Cancer Prevention
Now that Fe is a survivor of both lung and breast cancer, she has made a commitment to cancer prevention, which includes eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and trying to find time for physical activity.
Fe also visits M. D. Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center regularly for check-ups, where she has her annual well-woman exam, mammogram, clinical breast exam, CT scans and chest x-rays, in addition to undergoing other cancer screening exams recommended during her visit.
“It’s a must to get screened regularly, and it’s easier than ever with new technology,” Fe says. “I go to the Cancer Prevention Center one day a year and get all of my tests done in one place, which is great.”
Since Fe began visiting the Cancer Prevention Center for screening exams, she has participated in several research studies, including studies on lung cancer, and the prevention of colon and ovarian cancer. She feels that by giving her time to research, she might be able to help doctors figure out ways to prevent, treat or even cure cancer.
“I do whatever they ask me to do in terms of participating in studies because I want to help people,” Fe says.
While it is important to Fe to participate in research studies, get screened regularly and live a healthy lifestyle, she also believes that education is a key component to cancer prevention.
“I keep myself abreast of new cancer prevention information and ideas by reading as much as possible about the topic,” Fe says. “I don’t just read, though. I really try and implement the advice I’m given into my daily life. For example, when I read about how antioxidants can be a powerful cancer prevention tool, I followed that advice and incorporated more food with antioxidants, like blueberries and walnuts, into my diet.”
Fe just celebrated the birthday that she shares with her son with their traditional trip to morning mass, followed by a large family dinner. She has picked-up where she left off after her second cancer diagnosis and continues to work full-time as a hospice nurse and sing in her church choir. She also goes ballroom dancing with her daughter and manages to keep-up with her four grandchildren.
“Life is a joy, and I enjoy it to the fullest,” Fe says. “I’ve become such a huge fan of ballroom dancing that now I’m addicted to Dancing with the Stars. It’s just so fun! I have been trying to smell the roses, and I don’t sweat the small stuff. Because really, now everything is small stuff.”
Fe still spends a great deal of time at M. D. Anderson in addition to her visits to the Cancer Prevention Center. Not as a patient, though, but as a cancer support group volunteer.
"If I can contribute to even one person's recovery and survivorship, that is the greatest thing for me," Fe says.