Sherry Scott walked into Augusta Oncology Associates one Friday morning in August for her first chemotherapy treatment. She had her husband, Rance, and her sister, Lisa Adams, of Vidalia, Ga., with her for support. She had her Bible.
She is one of an estimated 182,460 women who will face breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society, including 4,910 in Georgia. She is determined not to be among the 1,000 in Georgia who will die from it this year. She is leaning on her faith to help get her through it, and chemotherapy is the part that has weighed on her the most, Mr. Scott said.
"Don't you think that's what bothered you the most?" he asked her.
"It bothers me that I'm going to be putting poison in my body," she said. "That bothers me more than anything, and I guess, losing my hair."
She now has a wig from the University Hospital Breast Health Center. Two nights ago, her church knelt around her as she was anointed with oil and prayed over her.
"I'm actually looking forward to getting it started so I can get to the end of it, but I'm not fearful of it," Mrs. Scott said. "God has just been really good. He's given me peace about it."
Nervous energy soon turned to boredom for some as Mrs. Scott chatted with others sitting in soft chairs around the small room, all of them hooked to an IV pole, none of them looking at the bags hanging over them.
As the morning wears on and stomachs empty, the talk turns to food.
Pat Madray sits across from Mrs. Scott and provides proof that Georgia is a small world when she brings up Jones Kitchen in Jesup, Ga. Mr. Scott snaps to attention.
"That is my favorite place to eat in the whole world," he said. Then he looks at his wife. "If we lived in Jesup, I would never ask you to cook."
It is hard to tell whether he is joking.
"My mother-in-law used to own that building," Mrs. Madray says.
Mrs. Scott has her Bible open to a favorite passage, Joshua 1:9: "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
It is something else the women have in common: a strong faith. Mrs. Madray is upbeat and confident even though her first breast cancer appeared in 1997 and she got a bone lesion in 2003.
"You just have to have a work of affirmation. Choose life," she said. "That's just part of the faith walk, for me. That's what the Bible tells you. Choose life, so that's what I'm going to do."
It seems to be the case with most women facing cancer, said Pam Anderson, of the breast health center.
"That's what got me through," she said. "I don't know how people who don't have it get through it."
Mrs. Scott is getting a chemotherapy regimen known as TAC, for the three drugs she will receive -- Taxotere, Adriamycin and Cytoxan, although she will receive them in reverse order. It is the middle drug that gets her attention as nurse manager Tracy Parks comes in with a big syringe full of bright-red fluid that she will slowly inject into the IV line. The drug sometimes startles women the next day because it can turn their urine red.
"You're not bleeding," Ms. Parks assured her.
The drug is infamous among breast cancer survivors, some of whom call it "the red devil."
"The Adriamycin is what causes your hair loss, right?" Mrs. Scott asks.
"The Taxotere does too," Ms. Parks replies.
Mr. Scott turns to Mrs. Madray.
"Do these treatments make you go into menopause?" he asks her.
"It just zips you right through it," she says.
"I've gone through it," Mrs. Adams says.
"We know," Mrs. Scott says.
As time drags on, the talk turns back to food.
"Southern Living took my secret to fried onion rings," Mrs. Adams announces, looking up from a magazine.
"What was your secret?" Mrs. Madray asks.
"Pancake mix," Mrs. Adams says.
By 11:45 a.m., three hours after the appointment began, the last bag is hung. Ms. Parks sits with her to watch for signs of an allergic reaction.
The bigger concern is what might come later.
"These treatments she's getting, what could we expect tomorrow?" Mr. Scott asks.
"Hopefully, she'll lay around and watch TV and you'll bring her popcorn," Ms. Parks said. "If she were to have nausea and vomiting, that would be likely to occur in the first 24 to 48 hours after treatment. And we are hoping that won't happen. She's gotten two different IV medications. She has two things to take at home for it. We hope we're doing everything we can to prevent that."
What scares women the most about chemotherapy is an outdated notion of the severe side effects, said Mrs. Anderson, of the breast health center.
"Some women come in and say, 'I will not do that chemo,'" she said. "But we're just so much more sophisticated about how we do that now."
One of the biggest differences is the use of supporting drugs to ease nausea, said Mark Keaton, of Augusta Oncology, Mrs. Scott's medical oncologist.
"I remember treating patients when I was in my fellowship 17-18 years ago. We would bring them into the hospital and just put a bucket by the bed," he said. "We'd have to give them so much of the nausea medicines at the time that we were using they'd be twitching, and sleeping, and throwing up at the same time."
Now, patients rarely need to be admitted to a hospital, and his chemo room sports baskets of chips and cookies for munching.
"Whereas before, it was, 'Don't even mention food to me,' " Dr. Keaton said.
Everything has become more sophisticated, and there is so much more available than when Ms. Parks went into oncology 18 years ago.
"It used to be, when I first went into oncology, we had two regimens for breast cancer," she said. "You got one. If it came back, you got the other one. If it came back, that was it. Now, there are tons and tons of drugs."
"How many different treatments are there?" Mr. Scott asks. "Because you talk to everybody, and everybody has something different."
"Just for breast cancer alone, there are 10 different regimens that we use," Ms. Parks says. "We probably have 100 different drugs in our cabinet."
And there is a definite edge of optimism in her voice as she looks ahead.
"We know the stuff in the pipeline is just unbelievable," Ms. Parks says.
Mrs. Scott is also buoyed by a cross-country phone call from her sister's son Nathan, who is stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. It is 8:45 a.m., and the sleepy-sounding Marine tells her, "I'm praying for you more than I ever prayed in my life."
His proud mother walks the cell phone around the room to let others listen to his voice mail.
"See, you did something right," Mrs. Scott tells her.
Ms. Parks, the nurse, walks in at the end with the Neulasta injection, which will help to rebuild white blood cells that the treatment will destroy.
Earlier, she had told Mrs. Scott that some patients get pain in the joints and bones. Mrs. Scott will give herself the injection the next day.
"It's $4,500," Ms. Park says as she hands over the box, "so don't drop it; don't lose it; don't let your dog get it."
Mrs. Scott's mouth drops open in shock.
"Let me have that," Mr. Scott says.
"It's cheaper than a hospital stay," Ms. Parks says.
As Mrs. Scott leaves the office, she is even more optimistic about the future.
"What I'm hoping is that this will be eliminated by the time Carter gets older," she said. "It's just going by leaps and bounds."
The next day, Mrs. Scott is feeling great and does her normal mile walk and takes daughter Carter to a pool party. That all changes on Monday, when she is hit with excruciating pain from the Neulasta injection. Now, she said, she knows why some call it "the Mike Tyson shot."
"The pain was in every bone, every joint," she would say later. It was like the worst flu you could ever imagine. If someone touched me or I touched something, it hurt. Thank God, I was better Tuesday."
It would become a pattern after her chemo treatments -- a rough day Monday spent in bed or the recliner or sofa in the living room, better on Tuesday, feeling herself again by Wednesday.
Two weeks after her first treatment, the hair was falling out enough that she had to face the inevitable and let her husband shave her head.
"You realize this is the only time I am going to let you cut my hair," she tells him.
"I hate to do this," he says, but he picks up the clippers and heads out to the sun porch.
As she faces away, he stands behind her and struggles to shave close enough, going back and forth over the wisps of dark hair.
"This is a lot of work," Mr. Scott says. "You don't have to work this hard on my hair."
"That's because you don't have any," Carter says.
After about 10 minutes, he steps back to admire his work.
"Hain't bad," he drawls.
Carter and her mother, now sporting her wig, go inside to her bedroom, to sit facing each other on the bed and make their declaration of faith, as they do every night. They pray "for great healing, a great recovery, no side effects from chemotherapy, no side effects from Neulasta and a change of chemotherapy for the better. In the name of Jesus. Amen."
Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or email@example.com.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A few months ago, The Augusta Chronicle began following recently diagnosed breast cancer patient Sherry Scott as she began her treatment after surgery. Her story will be told in a three-part series that began Sunday. Mrs. Scott and her family wanted to share what their family is going through in the hopes of helping others facing a similar battle.
SUNDAY: Getting the diagnosis
MONDAY: The first chemotherapy treatment
COMING TUESDAY: Returning to work