Her faith is keeping her strong

OKEECHOBEE — Leslie Arnold Burnette was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2017. She found a lump in her right breast. She always did self-checks because breast cancer runs in her family. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 13, she said. When they did the biopsy on Ms. Burnette’s right breast, they also found a stage zero cancer in her left breast, and so she had a double mastectomy. She had chemotherapy but no radiation, and then she thought she was in remission.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Leslie Burnette is pictured with her husband, Jim.

Last month, she started getting headaches and felt tired all the time. She even vomited a few times. She just knew something wasn’t quite right, she said. Her equilibrium was a little off, and on Sept. 20, her youngest daughter’s 13th birthday, she finally went to the doctor. Her bloodwork was perfect. She saw another doctor who was there that day, and she called Ms. Burnette’s doctor. He later told Ms. Burnette that he told the other doctor that if Ms. Burnette was there she send her to the ER because Ms. Burnette is pretty independent and usually does not go to the doctor unless something is REALLY wrong.

She was admitted to the hospital in Celebration. Her doctor told her when he saw her MRI, it took his breath away. She was told that even though she had completed all her treatments and everything was good, her breast cancer had metastasized. She had a brain tumor. She also had a couple nodules on her lung. They thought it might be in her liver, but they did a test, and her liver is clear. “We are thanking God for that,” she said.

She had surgery to remove the brain tumor and will be meeting with her oncologist to decide what happens next. He wanted to wait on her PET scan and a couple other tests, she said. He wanted to be sure it wasn’t in her bones, and “Praise God, it wasn’t in my bones,” she said. Often that is what happens with this type of cancer. The nodules on her lung are very small so they are not real sure how they want to treat those yet. The doctor has a chemo picked out that she will do every three weeks. It sounds like it’s not too bad, she said. You don’t lose your hair. “Of course,” she laughed, “they already shaved my head to do brain surgery. Oh well, at least it will start growing back quick.”

About a week after she got out of the hospital, she ran into a friend, who is a retired physical therapist, and she was shocked at how well Ms. Burnette was doing. “I didn’t really think about it at the time,” she said, “but when other people pointed it out, she realized, she is actually doing really well.” She is very thankful for all the prayers of everyone.

Even her children are handling it well. They talked to them about it, and since they have been through it once with the breast cancer, it is almost a normal thing for them, unfortunately, she said. The biggest issue right now is getting to all the appointments. That’s what is making her crazy, she said.

She considered going to a cancer treatment center, but is comfortable with her doctors and decided to stay with them. She feels she has built a relationship with her oncologist now. Of course, now she has added a neurologist to her team, she said.

She is pretty sure they will decide to try chemo first to see if that will knock out the cancer in her lungs rather than attempting surgery. They are very small. They don’t call them tumors. They call them nodules, she said. It’s still serious, but it’s not urgent right now. The brain tumor was the main thing. They do want to start her on radiation, but the possible long-term side-effects are making her nervous. They include things like hearing loss, trouble with her equilibrium, and various other things, so she is very hesitant to say yes to radiation. “I’m really praying on that right now,” she said. “Because when it comes to statistics, they are not ever on my side. We are talking about my brain here.”

She will meet with her neurologist soon and pick his brain before making the final decision about it, she said. She is hoping he will give her his real opinion and not just a “doctor” answer, she said. She is OK with short term side effects like nausea and tiredness, but those long term ones are making her pretty nervous. “Right now, all we can do is pray,” she said.

All in all, she feels like she is doing really well. She has a lot of people praying for her. Even the first time, she had a lot of people praying for her, she said. They have a lot of good friends and family, and they all believe in prayer. “Our faith is strong. I know the Lord is going to take care of me regardless of whether He heals me here or He heals me in Hheaven. I’ll be in good hands.”

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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