Faith and family keep Hodge going after double mastectomy

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One year after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Darlene Holifield Hodge is a survivor. Then again, she already was a survivor. She credits her family — because of the care they gave and because of the care they need — for helping her live through her ordeal. They gave her the determination to stay alive in order to be able to take care of them.

Hodge, 57, and husband Saul of the Myrick Community have two children — Jerri, 38, and Robby, 31, both of whom are handicapped and bedridden by what is commonly called “brittle-bone disease.” Jerri is on life support. Their mother talks more about the tough times they’ve endured all of their lives instead of dwelling on the debilitating disease that led her to undergo a double mastectomy last year.

“They keep us going andare always smiling,” Hodge said. 

That was never more true than the last year.

“My husband and children were my biggest supporters during the time of my breast cancer battle,” Hodge said. “My sister and her family were always telling me to fight. I had a host of friends and family who were always praying for me, even people I didn’t know. Saul and I had friends who volunteered to bring us meals throughout my recovery, as well, and this helped us tremendously. 

“I will forever be grateful for the love showed for our family during that time. Seeing my family at home and knowing they needed me so much kept me going and helped in keeping me focused on my goal of making it through whatever it took. They are my rock.”

Having a supportive family through tough times are needed while going through cancer treatment. So is a strong faith.

“I have a deep faith in God, and I knew He would help me through this and always be there for me,” Hodge said. “At one point, the scripture that says, ‘Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,’ came to me and I knew He was there. I repeated that scripture going to the operating room. God kept me going. 

“I also had cancer support groups on Facebook. With my children being bedridden, I couldn’t go to a support group in town. But there are many Facebook groups out there like mine for people like me who are home-bound.”

While Hodge was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive/infiltrating ductal carcinoma and lobular cancer, she was blessed to be spared chemo and radiation, as her surgeons fortunately got it all when she had both breasts removed. That was last year during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, on Oct. 16.

“When I first noticed something was wrong, I got a mammogram, but nothing was abnormal on the results,” Hodge said. “This happened several times, but all results were negative. I was sent to Dr. (Kevin) Ivey at the Laurel Surgery Clinic, at which time he ordered an ultrasound mammogram, which showed two spots. 

“He called us on a Sunday so we didn’t have to wait any longer to find out I had breast cancer. He then ordered an ultrasound biopsy, which showed three spots, and then an MRI, which showed the largest mass. This made four. A lumpectomy was out of the equation and a single mastectomy was offered, but because it was lobular cancer, I chose a double mastectomy. I will now be on treatments for five years, which are supposed to help keep the cancer from coming back.” 

Dealing with doctors and longer-term care has been a part of the Hodge family’s lives for nearly four decades.

“When Jerri was born via C-section, her arms, legs, collarbone and too many ribs to count were all broken,” Hodge said. “She was placed in a body cast at only 1 day old. Within the month, we found out she had a rare bone disease called osteogenesis imperfecta. Seven years later, our son was born with the same disease, along with a crushed skull that would leave him with autism and developmentally delayed.”

Hodge and her husband had been told by a geneticist that the disease was not hereditary and the odds of having more than one child with it was 1 in 100,000.

“Neither child would ever crawl or walk,” she said. “They went on to have too many surgeries to count, each having hundreds of broken bones over the years,” she said. “Our daughter’s neck broke, which left her paralyzed and on life support at age 11. Through much support, our son overcame his developmental delays and Jerri and Robby went on to graduate high school with honors. They are brilliant and wonderful.” 

After school, they both became bedridden by fractured vertebra and collapsing disks. Jerri has been on life support for more than 20 years. With both children being bedridden, Hodge and her husband care for them at home, and they feel blessed to have them around.

Despite all of the health problems that have affected the family, Hodge still “sings the praises of the Lord,” and plenty of friends and acquaintances have noticed. “Darlene is one amazing lady,” Belinda Harrison said. “She has inspired me many a time without even knowing it.”

Hodge has remained faithful, which has inspired others, but she admits that she isn’t the same as she was before the diagnosis.

“I think the thing that some people and even family may not understand is that cancer changes you forever,” she said. “You will never be the same as before, but you start to live your life, still knowing it could come back anytime or be worse. We will never be the same as before cancer. 

“Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a great way to remind women to always get their checkups, pay attention to their bodies and get those yearly mammograms. Even though a mammogram didn’t find mine, it’s the best early detection out there.”

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