Fighting Like a Girl…and Winning
October 2019 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson
Mike Force Photography
Reneé Sutton is feeling fortunate after surviving two bouts of early stage breast cancer.
“With my first breast cancer, I found a lump in my right breast while taking a shower,” she said, adding she had a mammogram, which showed no signs of cancer, just three months before discovering the lump. “It was a small, non-aggressive tumor.”
Her treatment included a lumpectomy and radiation to eradicate the cancer, but a year later, a mammogram revealed a small tumor in her left breast. “They called it in-situ (earliest stage cancer, considered non-invasive).” With this second diagnosis, Reneé chose to have a bi-lateral mastectomy. “The second one was so small I didn’t need radiation.”
Her active life of yoga, weight lifting and body pump classes at the YMCA, going to church, outings and supper club nights with friends, tending to the extensive flower beds at her Sedgemoor neighborhood home, monthly socials at the Brunswick Country Club, reading mysteries “with a little love and espionage mixed-in” and painting classes continued.
But just two years after overcoming cancer a second time, she felt an unfamiliar pain. “I was hurting on my right side,” Reneé said. “It felt like a pinch you get in your side walking sometimes.” Reneé’s oncologist, Dr. Antonio Moran, broke the terrible news to her in January 2017. Reneé had stage four cancer. “The cancer had metastasized to my liver,” she said. “My husband, (of 52 years) Clarence, was with me when I found out. I guess I was too stunned to really react. My liver was covered with it [cancer]. I think I asked what my chances were, and he [Dr. Moran] said ‘about 60 percent.’”
“I’m a Christian, and I pray all the time, but I guess I was a little angry at first. I thought, why me, but then, why not me? I had a friend who screamed and yelled when she found out, but neither my husband nor I are emotional people.”
With Clarence constantly by her side, Reneé began undergoing an aggressive form of chemotherapy. “A new chemo drug came out that had a 30 percent better recovery rate than other drugs. It was the first time Dr. Moran had used it—a very strong cocktail of three drugs together. I had six treatments of it and 12 maintenance treatments. Half-way into the treatments, they found no active cancer. It was very rough, and losing all my hair was hard, but it worked,” she smiled.
During her treatment and months of recovery, Reneé said she mostly stayed at home with Clarence, but had an entire team of family and friends invaluable to her eventual recovery. “I had no energy and just didn’t want to be around a lot of other people. I did go out some when I felt like it and to church, but not on a regular basis. But I had friends who brought meals. My mom, who is 91, offered to come stay with me. My knitting ladies friends were so great and gave me gift cards to eat out. People from the country club have been so good to us, too.”
During treatment, she lost much of her appetite, but “I really started to like ice cream. After a treatment, we’d go by Dairy Queen for my Peanut Buster Parfait. It didn’t take much to fill me up; I’d eat it over a few days.”
With little energy and experiencing “brain fog” as a result of the chemo treatments, Reneé had to temporarily give up some of her favorite pastimes. “I couldn’t seem to concentrate. At one point, I started putting together jigsaw puzzles. After doing that for a while, I went on to something else. However, after time, Reneé’s concentration returned. “And my memory is getting better. I started out reading anything light and playing solitaire. Just entertaining books, no sad stuff or drama. I’d had enough drama!” Reneé laughed.
She’s returned to painting and is back working out with friends and going out to lunch. “I try going to the Y three times a week for yoga. And we still have our supper club with friends.”
In addition to the medical treatment, Reneé also credits the numerous prayers she received and continues to receive from family and friends for her current remission status. “I was so lucky. I had friends and relatives from all over praying for me; I’ve been on so many prayer lists. Then there are my Facebook friends, too. Dr. Moran said, ‘I can’t take all the credit. Someone with a power much higher than me played a role in this.’”
“Right now, I am definitely in remission. I recently had CT scans all over my body, and everything is clear. I guess I didn’t think about it (the cancer) being as serious as it was. It still creeps in sometimes that I could be dying. But Dr. Moran said, ‘how many people do you know who have died since you’ve had this going on?’ You just have to keep living your life.”
And that’s exactly what Reneé is doing, while not taking anything for granted and looking forward to the future, including modeling in the local breast cancer luncheon. “This will be my first time modeling for a fashion show. Maggie’s Boutique is providing the clothes, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
She’s also looking forward to cutting back on her trips to the oncologist. “Right now, I see Dr. Moran every six months. When I see him in October, if everything is all clear, I will start seeing him just once a year. That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Origins: Born and raised in Ludowici; siblings and mother still live there. Her daughter, Monica Carter, lives on St. Simons; son, Darren, lives in Darien. She has three grandchildren.
Career: Worked for the federal government in the SSI department until retirement.
Church: Fort Frederica Presbyterian, St. Simons Island.
Wigging out: “A woman told me once that my hair was so pretty. I thanked her and told her I’d let her use it when I was finished with it! She didn’t know it wasn’t my hair!” Now it’s grown back, and I haven’t worn the wig or any hats since.”
Local cancer care: Reneé had all her treatment at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick. Besides Dr. Moran, she received care from surgeon Stephen Kitchen, MD and radiologist Bruce Tripp, MD.
October 19 - Breast Cancer Fashion Show & Luncheon
11 a.m. Sea Palms Resort, SSI. American Cancer Society's 20th Annual Breast Cancer Fashion Show Luncheon, featuring 13 models —all breast cancer survivors! Silent and live auctions, pink boxes, and noon lunch. $40 tickets through Oct. 14th available by calling 912.355.1378 or at Lady Outfitters and Antiques, Etc.