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Breast Cancer Survivor
- Diagnosed with stage I breast cancer at age 54
- Treated with surgery, Herceptin, and radiation therapy
- Cancer-free since 2009
While some people believe in fate, it may just have been good fortune that Bridget Clawson’s son Andy worked at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. His knowledge of the outstanding care provided at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, the patient care arm of the Hutchinson Center, is how Andy’s father, Bridget’s husband Ted, came to be treated for pancreatic cancer in 2008.
“We knew we’d go to SCCA,” Bridget says, recalling the days after her husband’s diagnosis. “Ted received outstanding care to prolong his life. And he lived for 13 months – long enough to meet his first grandchild.”
Bridget’s family’s experience with cancer was “eye-opening,” she says. It was her first experience with cancer, even though her mother died of cancer back in Georgia.
Bridget and Ted had been married for 35 years. They had several children together and a fulfilling life in Arlington. During his treatment, Bridget put her own needs aside. When Ted eventually passed away, she knew she had to begin living her own life again. Her first plan of action was to get her annual mammogram that she’d put off while nursing Ted.
The week after her husband passed away, Bridget went in for her mammogram that identified an abnormality and was eventually diagnosed with as HER2+ breast cancer in her right breast.
“Of course I went to SCCA. Everyone knew me there already,” Bridget says. “I was given a team of doctors to take care of me: Dr. V.K. Gadi, medical oncologist, and Dr. David Byrd, my surgeon. They tape recorded my appointment and everything. It was a shock, but I knew I was in the best hands.”
Her year of treatment shielded Bridget from her grief and loss. First she had surgery, a lumpectomy, as well as a sentinel node surgery, with Dr. Byrd.
“He was very reassuring,” Bridget says. “He told me that by re-scheduling my missed mammogram, I saved my life.” Dr. Gadi was equally reassuring.
After surgery, Bridget had a short course of chemotherapy and a year of treatment with Herceptin, (Trastuzumab), a monoclonal antibody that interferes with the HER2/neu receptor in breast cancer.
“Every Friday I would drive to the SCCA for treatment and Andy, who still worked at the Hutchinson Center, would pick me up and drive me home after treatment,” she says.
After chemotherapy, Bridget then had 12 weeks of daily radiation, which she was able to receive closer to her work in Everett.
“Not everything about cancer is bad,” Bridget says. “You find out about other people. We were out on CarePages and shared about pancreatic cancer. I think it helps."
The aftercare was really important to Bridget. “I was pretty low and vulnerable. But I never missed any work. I’d lost so much of my life already.”
Bridget saw Dr. Gadi regularly for two years. Her HER2 cancer is gone now. “And if I get cancer again,” she says, “it’ll be a new cancer, not that one.”
Her last mammogram was clear!
“Ted died in 2009. It was mid-year 2010 before I started dealing with the grief,” Bridget says. She went to counseling, tried antidepressants, and went to a support group.
“I married Ted when I was 19, I didn’t know how to begin making a new life for myself,” she says. She turned to her old, pre-19 talents and examined what she had liked to do back then, before she became a wife and mother.
“I’d had years of fun in the theater as a kid. It became my second home, so I decided to join a theater group, but I couldn’t find one,” she says.
Bridget decided to start one of her own. Her first play will be performed in a park in Arlington during August 2012. “There’s no money exchanged. We traded practice space for the performance,” she says. The play is an adaptation of “Hansel and Gretel” that includes audience participation.
When she isn’t working on a play or working at her job, Bridget enjoys being at home with her three dogs and a cat and driving her tractor around her two-plus acres. “I don’t have a lot of down time now. And that was one of my goals,” she says.