grandma pat

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Back in 1994 my grandma, Patricia Lawton, was part of an award-winning newspaper series chronicling women in central Illinois who were battling cancer. Throughout the fall of 94 and spring of 95, The Pantagraph, the local newspaper in Bloomington, Illinois, followed her in her fight against cancer. It was my grandmas hope that through these experiences others would find inspiration, comfort and be better educated on the fight against what was then, I feel, a disease not readily talked about. It was in honor of this amazing woman that on April 29th, her birthday, I donated my hair to Pantene Beautiful Lengths, an organization that turns donated locks of hair into wigs which are given, at no cost, to women who are battling cancer. Like Grandma it is my hope that through donating my hair, and sharing her story, others are inspired to take similar action. It is also my hope that those who have been putting off getting tested, for whatever reason, are moved to do so. Early detection is still one of the best defenses. Cancer is a disease that touches everyone; we most assuredly all know someone who has had it. Like with other things in life we have, within ourselves, the ability to not only positively impact those patients who have this disease but also to protect ourselves. All that is required is action. To learn more about Pantene Beautiful Lengths, visit them at: Below is Grandma Pats story. --David Currier



Pat Lawton winced as Kristine Wieser, an oncology certified nurse, injected one of three drugs into an IV tube. This was the first of a three-consecutiveday treatment with the drug combination N.F.L.; which she will take monthly.

Pat Lawton is not your typical breast cancer patient. Yet she is dying of the disease. Her journey through biopsies, hormone, radiation and chemotherapy treatment did not start with a lump. It started with a pain in her legs, a pain so bad that she could hardly walk. Lawton was finishing her 25th year as a teacher at Washington School in Bloomington when she went to a doctor twice in the spring of 1989 because of the pain. Both times, Lawton's doctor told her to take some aspirin and sent her home without taking any tests or X-rays. He said it was probably arthritis. The visits gave her little peace of mind and certainly didn't help the pain. "I went the whole summer limping," Lawton said. Before returning to school, Lawton went to a different doctor and through some X-rays, she learned she had a tumor on her pelvis. In fact, the tumor had cracked the pelvis - the cause of all her pain. In late September, the tumor was removed and she learned it was malignant and it was breast cancer. The doctor explained that a tiny tumor in her breast spread and turned up in her pelvis. Tests revealed the cancer reacted positively to hormones, confirming it was breast cancer.


And so began treatment for a disease without a known cause or a cure. The treatment only could offer to help Lawton function as "close to 100 percent as possible," said Dr. John Kugler, Lawton's oncologist. Lawton's breast cancer is "extremely rare," because it never showed up on a mammogram and hasn't to this day, Dr. Kugler said. She doesn't have a lump that can be felt. There are four stages of breast cancer, ranging from the small and contained tumor to the type that has already spread to other organs of the body. Lawton had stage four cancer from the first day of her diagnosis. "It was problematic to treat because it had already spread although there was no lymph node involvement or hadn't gone to vital organs," Dr. Kugler said. Since the cancer had already spread when Lawton was diagnosed, Dr. Kugler had no reason to suggest surgery on her breasts. Instead, they have treated her entire body with hormone drugs and chemotherapy and used radiation on the spots hit with cancer. Her first form of treatment was taking the anti-estrogen drug tamoxifen commonly used as a hormonal therapy for breast cancer. This drug is effective for controlling the tumor and often prescribed as an alternative to chemotherapy in postmenopausal women. Tamoxifen taken twice a day, kept cancer at bay in Lawton's body for 18 months before it progressed. Lawton went on to take seven more different hormones during the next few years before doctors ran out of options earlier this year. Most hormones were taken in pill form although one was administered by injection to her stomach.

At 9, Kyle Lawton, Pats granddaughter, likes to have fun joking with her grandmother. Pat had set her wig on the bathroom counter when Kyle snatched it up to see how she would look with dark curly hair.

Meanwhile, cancer spread to her ribs, shoulder, skull, spine, and to a bone in her right leg. She has received radiation treatment on her back and shoulders and is now going through a second round of treatments to her leg.


In May, Lawton started chemotherapy treatments, including a stint on the latest drug used for fighting breast cancer, called Taxol. The drug, covered by Lawton's insurance, costs about $3,000 a session because it is derived from the bark of the rare Pacific yew tree. A less expensive form of the drug exists but it is awaiting FDA approval. "You understand why people who are poor - they can't afford to have cancer," Lawton said. "It's a very expensive disease." In early August, she was placed on a new mixture of chemotherapy because Taxol was not helping her pain. She uses a cane to walk and she is often weak. "There is still a variety of chemotherapy options that will allow a number of months or a couple years of continued survival," Dr. Kugler said of Lawton's treatment options. Her reaction to the hormones and various drugs have been almost worse than the pain of cancer itself. Some lowered her voice. Others caused nausea and loss of strength. She grew facial hair on one hormone. Now she has lost her hair through chemotherapy. She has suffered muscle spasms. Radiation on her spine burned her esophagus and made her sick. She has been ill and hospitalized. She has had pneumonia. She temporarily loses her sense of touch in her fingers after chemotherapy. "There are times when I'm not feeling well, when I ask the question, `Is it really worth all this?' But it is. Life is precious." The 62-year-old says the hardest part of living with breast cancer is not having the strength and energy to do the things she once did. Before cancer, she would rise before 6 a.m. to prepare for a day teaching kindergarten students. She served on educational organizations, loved to shop and enjoyed spending time with her husband, three adult children and seven grandchildren. She especially enjoyed making holiday meals for her family in her home on Jackson Street. Lawton retired early - in June 1992 - because of her illness. She spends her days resting, and visits with friends when she can. She and her family go out to dinner on the holidays now because she can no longer cook a big meal. And she laughs about the fact she can no longer out-shop her family or friends.

Pat has a close relationship with Kyle. The two try to spend one day a week together doing things such as playing Old Maid and trying on jewelry.


The disease has taken its toll on her husband, Harvey. He now does most of the household chores in addition to caring for his wife. The couple will be married 41 years in December. Today, Lawton revels in the fact that she has lived almost five years since learning she had breast cancer on Sept. 22, 1989. But today, Lawton also believes she will die of breast cancer. She and Harvey recently picked out their grave sites. "I feel so fortunate," Lawton said, fidgeting as she talked. "At 57 when I got cancer, I was so thankful the kids were raised. I was happy they were settled. It's a cross - you have a little black cloud over you and it's called cancer. "I wonder about how I am going to die. I've always had trouble with the idea of dying. I don't worry about leaving the material things. I just don't want to leave my friends and family. I want more."



Kathy Jacek, a registered radiation therapist at St. Joseph Medical Center, changed the lead plates made especially for Pat Lawtons radiation treatment. The lead plates block the radiation so as not to expose more areas than needed. Pat has five different plates because she is being treated in several areas, both front and back. Each patient has individualized plates.

They sit around in the pink room where the inspirational posters with nature scenes adorn the wall and large comfortable chairs await each new arrival. This is a happy room, or so it seems. The women gathered are talking, laughing, reading, napping, doing their needlepoint or hooking rugs. Today, three of the four women seated together happen to be former teachers at war with cancer. "Is this where all teachers end up?" one quips. "Here, without any class?" "Oh, we still have class. We have plenty of class," says Pat Lawton of Bloomington. Amid the chatter, a nurse comes in periodically to check on them or inject a new patient with a healthy dose of drugs in shades of blues, reds or yellow. Those are the same shades of their urine after the treatment although that might not be on the leaflets the nurse gives them. But the other side effects are there; listed in black and white. And when they're out of the pink room and back in their homes, they'll begin to feel in varying degrees - the effects of these pretty drugs. Lawton, who has been fighting breast cancer for almost five years, was on t