The young married mother decided she should examine herself after a co-worker’s breast cancer was found during a health screening at work.
The year was 1980, and then-Franklin resident Norma Wilson couldn’t quit thinking about her friend’s diagnosis.
She discovered she, too, had a lump.
The lump turned out to be cancerous, and she had to undergo chemotherapy, radiation and a mastectomy. She tried not to let he disease disrupt her life. She drove herself home after every chemotherapy session, cooked dinner for her family and went back to work the next day.
Northern Brown County
1980 and again in 2010
Type of cancer
Chemotherapy, radiation and mastectomy in 1980; a second mastectomy in 2010
What cancer taught me
It taught me a lot of things. You have to be aware of your own health. Don’t wait for treatment. Don’t put things off even if you don’t have insurance.
How cancer changed me
I think it causes me to focus more on family and people. I think I have more sympathy and feeling for people than I used to.
What I would tell someone diagnosed with cancer
Listen to what your doctor tells you. Don’t forget to pray about it.
The cancer came back in her other breast two years ago, and she had it removed with another mastectomy.
The 82-year-old, who now lives in Brown County, has been declared cancer-free. She credits a positive attitude, a sense of humor and her faith in God with helping her overcome the disease. She’s been helping an adult son cope with his cancer.
She had a family history of cancer but hadn’t been worried about the first lump she found in 1980.
Wilson went to the sick bay at work, where a doctor checked it and told her it looked cancerous. He advised her to call her personal doctor.
“I wasn’t really concerned about it when I called my doctor’s office to schedule an appointment in a couple of weeks,” she said. “It hadn’t hit me yet that anything might be wrong.”
But her doctor wanted her to see a surgeon.
She told her children, Brenda and Leslie, that she was getting ready to go to the hospital. She hadn’t meant to blurt that out but thought she’d just need some tests.
“I wasn’t taking it seriously,” she said. “There was nothing serious until it was confirmed that it was even there.”
Wilson remained convinced that there was nothing to be concerned about and that the doctor could operate and take any cancer out. But when he said the lump looked cancerous, she became worried about who would raise her children.
She underwent chemotherapy, which made coffee and tea taste sour and caused her to lose her hair.
Her doctor told her it would come out in clumps, and she removed a whole handful of her hair when she ran her hand through it.
When her husband Fred got home from his construction job in the evening, she told him that he’d have to cut her hair. He said he didn’t want to.
“I told him, ‘Yes you can. So shut up.’” she said. “So he cut it all off with a razor until it was a shiny as a baby’s bottom.”
She started wearing a wig. One day, it was blown off when she walked to a sterilization room where workers, who were blown free of dust, could handle sensitive materials used to make missiles.
“My head was all bald and shiny,” she said. “But I just needed a wig to make it black, gray, red or purple with green polka dots. I could color it brown or brunette.”
She told her co-workers she was glad to have the opportunity to try out new hairstyles that she couldn’t before.
“I laughed,” she said. “My theory on anything is that the humor gets you through. You have to put your faith in God first and keep humor in your life.”
She had thought she was cured and went in for annual mammograms every year. Her results always came back clean, and soon she had to come in only every five years.
But the cancer returned in her other breast, and Wilson immediately decided to have it removed. She didn’t have as much anxiety since she had been through it before and believed God would take care of her.
“It’s just easier that way than worrying about false imaginings and fears,” she said. “You’ve got to have faith in God and whoever is doctoring you. You’ve got to have faith.”