Better Health and Wellness: Breast cancer survivor checking items off her bucket list

Better Health & Wellness

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – With an aunt and a cousin in Paula Ring’s family with histories of breast cancer, Ring was diligent about her monthly breast self-examinations. This was never more important than when she went through hormone therapy following a hysterectomy.

When she was 41, she found a lump in her right breast and called a surgeon. They were able to get her in the next day for a sonogram and mammogram. When asked if Ring would consider a needle biopsy: she declined.

“I had a friend who did a needle biopsy, they missed her diagnosis. She ended up dying from breast cancer because they missed her diagnosis,” Ring remembers.

Dr. Bassam Mattar, Ring’s trusted medical oncologist, says her self-exams likely saved her life given her family history of breast cancer.

The lump was removed and discovered to be malignant. When Ring scheduled the appointment for her lumpectomy and mastectomy at the Cancer Center of Kansas, she ran into her 49-year-old cousin who had had breast cancer.

“She said, ‘They found cancers splattered all over my lungs. They’ve given me 13 months to live,” Ring recalls.

Ring’s cousin lived exactly 13 months before passing away. Based on her cousin’s recommendation, Ring went in for the mastectomy with a “whatever it takes” attitude.

“Hit me with all you got, because I want to live to see my grandkids get married and have a great-grandchild,” Ring said.

The decision turned out to be the right one, as another lump was discovered in Ring’s lower right breast.

“Had they just done a lumpectomy, the other could have broken out in ten years or less, and I would have to go through everything all over again,” Ring said.

When Ring went in for an X-ray less than a year later, she ran into her 68-year-old aunt.

“She said that her cancer had come back. And this was her third time,” Ring said.

RELATED | Breast Cancer Fact Sheet For Patients

Her aunt’s passing further solidified Ring’s attitude toward treatment. Ring received Adriamycin Cytoxan chemotherapy, also known as “the red devil.” The red liquid drug is administered intravenously and is notoriously aggressive. As a result, ring lost her hair and often had to get IV fluids to function as a wife and mother.

Ring’s daughter Abbie, sister, Debbie and husband Ed served as caregivers in her journey. Ed took her to get a wig when her hair fell out.

“One time I was hairless, sicker than a dog, and told him if I died today, I was the happiest woman in the world Because you given me everything I could ever want,” Ring said with tears.

Ring’s mother, though not biological, survived breast cancer on the right side as well. Together, they were recognized at a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event. Tears were shed remembering Ring’s aunt and cousin. Ring’s mother passed away in December 2020.

Now 20 years since her diagnosis, Ring says she relies on God for what she calls “little miracles.” She believes in the power of clinical trials for research purposes, which she has participated in. She continues her self-exams each month and has made 2021 the year she checks things off her bucket list.

So far, that’s included reading the Bible in a calendar year, going zip-lining and singing the national anthem at a WSU basketball game.

She’s also on track to reach her original two goals: seeing a grandchild get married and having a great-grandchild. Photos of her large family dot what she calls the “wall of why” in her home. She specifically pointed out her first great-grandson and her first grandchild to tie the knot in November.

“Little Aiden, he’s so cute. And I can’t wait to see Jordan get married,” Ring said.

RELATED | Help Save Lives From Breast Cancer Infographic

Ring participates in “Reach to Recovery,” a volunteer program by the American Cancer Society that connects a breast cancer survivor who is at least one year out from their diagnosis with someone that’s newly diagnosed. Together, the pair provides encouragement and first-hand wisdom while answering any questions.

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