When Lynda Eccles was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she’d already lost one sister to the disease and watched another go through the same diagnosis six months prior.
“When my doctor first told me, my initial reaction was ‘get it out of me.’ ” she said. “I wanted it gone.”
“It was back when the ‘C’ word was terrifying. I was absolutely terrified, but not once did I think I was going to die. I eliminated that thought from my head.”
Throughout the experience, Eccles said she found a strength she never knew she had. Much of that strength, she said, was from the support of friends and family.
Her sister, having just gone through it herself, helped by providing the support Eccles needed. Originally from England, Eccles moved to the states after her first sister was diagnosed. She moved to Coupeville eight years ago and serves as the executive director of the Coupeville Chamber of Commerce.
“While thousands of miles apart, we were constantly on the phone to each other comparing our treatments and how we felt,” she said. “Being so far away from all your family when you go through something like this is difficult, but I am so lucky to have a wonderful and supportive husband and two amazing children and the support of friends surrounding me.”
Eccles’ first brush with cancer required a lumpectomy, and chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
While everyone’s experience with treatment differs, Eccles’ response with chemotherapy wasn’t the best. During the time, whenever she could, Eccles fought for normalcy, going to work on good days.
“With a woman, it’s all the emotions that go through it,” she said. “You just got to fight, not let the negative get to you.”
When Eccles lost her hair, she wore wigs and made a point to have fun with it.
“What helps is if you find some humor out of something,” she said. “I really, honestly believe a positive outlook helps you get through.”
Eccles didn’t first go to the doctor because she suspected she had breast cancer. She hadn’t been feeling well. When she mentioned her sister’s recent diagnosis, the doctor started testing.
“Life moved so quickly from that moment,” Eccles said. “Once treatments were over I quickly realized that life would never be completely the same. Realizing your oncologist is someone you see on a regular basis, mammograms, blood tests, all became a part of life, and an important part.”
Eccles’ life became divided into milestones, chunks of time cancer-free.
“When you reach five years cancer-free, that is the big one,” she said. “I remember the day clearly when I thought I was seeing my oncologist for the last time.”
That appointment didn’t go as expected, and tests revealed the cancer had returned.
“This time it was deep inside my chest wall, close to my heart,” she said. “I was numb. David (my husband) had not come with me that day. Why would he? I told him it was my final visit and we were going to have a dinner party that evening.”
Eccles’ second bout with cancer was in the same breast. Doctors recommended a mastectomy this time because of the cancer’s position.
“My determination to win over this once again never wavered,” she said. “I was going to be a survivor yet again.”
And survive she did. Eccles has been cancer-free for 20 years. Three weeks after her mastectomy she returned to work, and she has continued to work.
“I think when it first happened it gave me an inner strength I didn’t know I had,” she said. “I think it made me stronger, more independent. You can’t get through something like that without your family, but you have to fight for yourself.”
While Eccles has been cancer free for two decades, it still weighs on her mind.
Her sister, who went through cancer with her the first time, fought illness for years as her cancer spread to other parts of her body. She died years later. Another sister died from leukemia.
“You’re always concerned about your health and your body,” Eccles said. “There is always that fear when you don’t feel great and you have aches and pains.”
A few years ago Eccles had another scare, this time with a non-malignant tumor in her thyroid. It is closely monitored by doctors. Because of her family history, Eccles also opted recently to have a BRCA Test, which is genetic testing that looks at a woman’s hereditary risk of getting breast cancer. Hers came out positive.
“I’d rather know than not know,” Eccles said. “So much is changing, they’ve come so far.”
“It’s talked about now. People talk about it. It’s important for women to focus on their health. I felt I was a healthy person. It was a day that changed my life, but you’ve just got to smile each day and recognize, life is good.”