Throughout Charlotte Wood’s treatment, life felt like it was moving in slow motion, however 2.5 years out, Wood reflected that with variables and treatments constantly changing, her year battling breast cancer was really a whirlwind.
“My mom and sister took it really hard when I told them that I had breast cancer and I always had this weird idea that if there was some type of algorithm that determined who got cancer, I was glad that it was me and not my mom or sister and – strangely enough – if it meant that some child out in the world didn’t have to deal with it,” Charlotte Wood said. “I was glad that it was me because I knew that I could deal with it, that I could handle it.”
It was amongst a time of celebration when Wood felt a soreness in her left breast, prompting a self examination while getting ready for her son’s wedding that same day.
At first, Wood’s OBGYN had thoughts of hormonal changes or a fibroadenoma, however a mammogram and ultra sound led to Wood being told that she should prepare for the worst.
A mass three centimeters in diameter was found located against her chest wall and a biopsied path report led to a clinical staging of stage three, though it was often debated throughout her treatment.
With a surgeon and medical oncologist at MD Anderson in the Woodlands, Wood was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, and began pursuing treatment on the first of September 2016. Wood was to undergo four treatments of AC chemotherapy every other week followed by 12 treatments of Taxol chemotherapy, however unexpected setbacks ensued.
Wood faced two infections at the beginning of her treatment process, one from her biopsy and the other from her first round of chemotherapy.
“I named my tumor Big Bertha, so the first chemo treatment made her really mad and I ended up with an infection, and had to do antibiotics and such and she actually increased in size as a result … I think at one point the area that was affected was up to five centimeters,” Wood said, noting that the treatment made her feel extremely ill as well.
“My first treatment that I had, I didn’t think I was going to make it home from work, then two days later it hit me,” Wood said, though her treatments got progressively worse each time.
A third grade teacher at Parmley Elementary School in Willis at the time, Wood opted for a wig upon losing her hair because she was worried of how her students would take her change of appearance.
A book, “When Your Teacher Has Cancer”, helped the teacher tell her students what she was going through and what to expect. Counselors at the school helped prepare a powerpoint presentation for the class and Wood placed a question box in the classroom for kids to ask questions that Wood would then address to the class, though Wood notes that she received many uplifting notes through the box as well.
Finishing chemo in February, Wood went straight to surgery in March.
At 45 years old, Wood was told by her surgeon that she fell in a gray area when deciding how to proceed with her mastectomy. If she was under 40, a bi-lateral mastectomy would have been recommended, whereas if she was over 55, her surgeon would have said not to do it, so situated in the middle, it became Wood’s decision as how to proceed.
Wood had already met with a plastic surgeon to discuss reconstructive surgery and help her weigh the pros and cons of a bi-lateral mastectomy.
“He went through all of the different reasons – why not to, and why to do it – and he said that for some people it’s just peace of mind and I felt like that was the biggest reason that I wanted to go ahead because I did not want to go through all of this again,” Wood said, opting for a bi-lateral mastectomy – a decision that was later affirmed when her surgeon discovered during her surgery that she had a typical lobular hyperplasia which put her at a higher risk of actually developing cancer in the other breast as well.
Wood advises other women battling breast cancer to find a strong support system, “you’re not alone when you fight it, and I think that is the most important thing for getting through it.”
Wood noted that her family was and continues to be some of her biggest supporters – her mother and husband made sure that she never went to a chemo treatment alone while her sister took care of her post-surgery.
“My sister is a nurse by trade so she was always there to help me and she was my biggest helper after surgery because I wasn’t sure that after getting released from the hospital that I was prepared to remove bandages by myself and see what all took place,” Wood said.
Family and friends reached out for updates on her journey often and Wood decided to set up a group page on Facebook to keep everybody informed of her progress, basing the name of the group off of a quote by Mother Theresa, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”
“I decided that I alone cannot change cancer – to revise her quote a little bit – but that I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples … not only was I battling cancer, but I knew several other people that were as well, so I used it as kind of a campaign to ask for prayers for others that I knew were going through it as well,” Wood said, naming the group “Casting Stones at Cancer.”
The support she received was overwhelming and something that she recommends women battling cancer to find solace in. Family, friends and even acquaintances would check in on her through the page taking in updates and passing on prayers. Wood specifically remembered one of her sister’s co-workers posting an inspirational quote or bible verse every day.
“It was a way for me to get out to everybody what was going on but it also helped keep me positive and it helped me feel good about what was going on and that people were praying for me and I think that had a lot to do with my attitude on my journey … I just knew everything was going to be okay,” Wood said.
The survivor still revisits “Casting Stones at Cancer” occasionally, asking for prayers for someone else in need or updating when she goes back for her six months visit.
“I’ve always said that ‘I won my battle, but I’m still fighting a war,’ every time you have to go back for a doctor’s appointment you still feel like you’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Wood said.
At 48 years old, life has returned to a new normal – Wood now teaches second grade at Parmley Elementary School.
“It’s really weird because when you’re going through it, you’re thinking, ‘life will never be normal again,’ and here I am, 2.5 years out of being cancer-free and life happens … you get busy and you just keep doing things,” Wood said.
“Looking back in the rear view mirror it was over rather quickly and I compare what I went through to others who were living with things that are a longterm battle, so I feel very fortunate for it to have only taken a year of my life and that I made it on the other side.”