ĎDonít hesitate to fight for yourself í
Clifford encourages others to be their own advocates
By her own admission, Meredith Clifford hasnít always been one to stand up for herself.
She doesnít like confrontation, avoids it whenever possible.
But if there is any blessing to be found in contracting breast cancer last year, itís that Clifford found her voice.
ďIíve never really been one that stands up for myself and I feel like I found a voice through some of this,Ē Clifford told the Banner Graphic recently, ďbecause I did rely on my inner voice, which Iím not super good at listening to most of the time. But I did.Ē
In facing down the disease, Clifford found her voice and found out a lot more about herself, about self-advocacy, about faith, about family, about love, about becoming a survivor.
The last year-plus has been a trying one for Meredith, husband Daryn and children Skylar, 21, and Colton, 17. She was diagnosed last September, and in the time has been through wholistic treatments, chemotherapy, radiation, a mastectomy and a plethora of tests. In February, sheíll have reconstructive surgery.
Her biggest message to those facing breast cancer is to be their own advocates, choose their own paths. While she chose Cancer Treatment Centers of America for her treatment, she doesnít say all other women should do the same.
Breast cancer treatment is not one-size-fits-all. If it feels like the wrong fit, then it just might be.
What follows is Meredithís story, in her own words.
Sheís certainly found her voice.
My story might be a little more complicated than some.
I had been really sick in the spring of í19, had kind of a fluid buildup on the left side of my neck. As that started to drain, I noticed a lump forming in my breast.
I just kind of thought things were moving through my system. Weíll give it a minute.
So I didnít get it checked out right away.
That was probably June or July, so then in September it wasnít going away. It wasnít necessarily getting any bigger. So I went to get it checked out.
Thatís when I received my diagnosis, which was Stage 3, Grade 3, triple negative breast cancer.
At that point, the numbers they were giving me as far as success rates with chemo were in the 30-percent range. I didnít feel all warm and fuzzy about going that route with that percentage.
So I decided to do more natural things, which was a variety of diet changes, juicing, I went and saw a naturopath ó all different sorts of things. And it quickly grew.
From the point of diagnosis, which was Sept. 6, until mid-November, it grew like crazy. By the time I started chemo, it was a nine-centimeter tumor that was visible on the outside of my skin. I had extreme pain.
I just kind of knew then that I didnít have any other choice.
Not an assembly line
I went for a second opinion with a different oncologist because I didnít really like the odds that the first one had given me. I felt like everybody put you on an assembly line, like everybodyís treatment is the same, this is what we do for breast cancer.
I felt like it should be more personalized. Not everybodyís situation is the same.
The only thing I can say is I didnít feel peace with either of those oncologists.
So, I had called Cancer Treatment Centers of America the next day and I got a call back from an oncologist within like an hour and a half on a Friday evening. He sat and talked to me for probably 30, 40 minutes and told me he could see me that Monday. And I thought Daryn was going to kill me because I was chasing yet one more rabbit.
But I said, ďLetís just see what he has to say. I feel like I just need to see what he has to say.Ē
So we went (to Chicago) and both of us left there going, ďThatís where we need to be. We have options as far as plans. You can do this type of chemo or you can do this type of chemo.Ē
I felt like I kind of had a say in my care. I just felt peace with that plan.
So we went to Chicago every three weeks for infusions. I went there for my mastectomy in May. Iíll go there again for reconstruction in February. They have been phenomenal.
Be your own advocate
I donít say this to preach for them (Cancer Treatment Centers). Iíve had a few friends send people to me and they just need support.
The biggest thing I can say is, be your own advocate. For instance, I started with a different chemo regimen in Chicago than I would have had here. I had really, really good results with that. And then it wasnít all the way gone so they switched me to the regimen that is the standard of care, so to speak, around here. And I didnít really have any results with that.
Had I just jumped on the assembly line and done what I didnít have peace with but everybody was telling me to do, I donít know that I would have had the results that I had.
What I tell people is be your own advocate. Donít hesitate to fight for yourself. I donít like confrontation. Iíve never really been one that stands up for myself and I feel like I found a voice through some of this because I did rely on my inner voice, which Iím not super good at listening to most of the time. But I did.
Faith, Post-Its and feathers
I prayed a lot. I learned to walk by faith. Thereís a Bible verse ó Isaiah 41:10 ó that has been passed to me I canít tell you how many times throughout this process. Everything I would open up would be Isaiah 41:10 and I would think, ďOK, thatís God telling me, ĎDo not fear for I am with you.íĒ
It had never been a thing for me before. Thatís not a verse I had always loved. I didnít even know it, to be honest.
The color yellow showed up everywhere and I was like, ďWhat the heck?Ē
In the beginning, Daryn had said, ďI just wish when we prayed for answers, we could hear God telling us what to do.Ē
I said, ďFor sure. Iím not picky ó a yellow Post-It note is fine with me.Ē
Literally within days, everything yellow started showing up around me. I didnít even put the two together until I was telling my story to a friend.
I said, ďI have no idea what the yellow is.Ē She said, ďI do. You asked for a yellow Post-It note,Ē and I was like, ďYouíre right. I did.Ē
Feathers ó I had a friend showing me something on her husbandís race car where he had about gotten in a wreck. It was a scuff that looked like a feather.
But she said, ďYou know what they say, when feathers appear, angels are near.Ē I said, ďOh, Iíve not heard that before.Ē
I literally went home that day, was taking out the trash and found a teeny, tiny white feather in my driveway.
From then on, theyíve shown up everywhere. When Iíve been having the days of questioning, what are we supposed to do, it was like Godís way of telling me, ďJust stay the course. Have peace. Youíll get through.Ē
Itís really kind of been an amazing journey for what it is. Iíve learned a lot.
You just learn to know, itís all going to be OK. Whatever the end result is, itís what itís meant to be and itíll be OK.
Chemo and COVID
Theyíve actually been really good in Chicago, as far as when I was going through chemo, they would still allow Daryn to come into the infusion center with me, those types of things.
When I went to my mastectomy, he dropped me off and pre-op and I was by myself until they discharged me down to the surgeonís office, where he met me so we could get our post-op instructions. So I spent, luckily it was just one night there in the hospital by myself.
They have a guest quarters which is maybe a block and a half away. Thatís where we always stay when we go and thatís where he was. The doctor was really good about communicating with him via phone, like ďOK, weíre halfway through, things are going well,Ē and then giving him an update when it was over.
The actual best part about (the pandemic) was there was zero traffic around Chicago for three or four months when we were going. It was horrible to try and get there because itís actually about 45 minutes to an hour north of Chicago and you never knew what kind of nightmare it was going to be getting around Chicago.
When they went on lockdown, we were like, ďWow, this is nice.Ē
There have been a few pluses to it.
It was honestly kind of nice in the fact that some of the months I felt the worst was during all of that. I didnít have to be out seeing people because you couldnít go anywhere. That was kind of nice to be stuck at home.
As far as the pandemic goes, with Coltonís spring sports last year, I was like, ďWhat do I go to, what do I not go to?Ē You try to stay out of crowds some. I had a surgery going on that we were trying to plan.
When they canceled everything I thought, ďWell that takes care of that. I donít have to stress about it.Ē
It takes a village
People have done some amazing things for us. The support we have received from the community, family, friends, employers. Theyíve done countless fundraisers.
Before my last chemo treatment, there were 70-ish cars that came and did a drive-by to celebrate my last infusion and drop off little gift bags.
It has been amazing. You donít ever think people even really know how you are, then you go through something like this and they come out of the woodwork to try and make the journey just a little bit easier.
Itís a family affair
In the beginning, I think itís just stressful. You have to figure out this new way of life. Boundaries, as far as everyone wants to be there with you. But sometimes you donít want anybody around. Being able to say that without coming off as unappreciative or rude. You want that support but at the same time sometimes you just need your space.
We have learned how to walk through that.
The kids have been great. Iíve tried to tell them a lot, ďIf you have questions, ask them.Ē With our struggles, one thing Iíve said was, ďWeíre all doing this for the first time. We donít know how to walk through it as a family. You donít know how to do it as a husband. The kids donít know how to do it as kids. Our families ó your mom, my mom ó theyíve never had to do this before.Ē
There is no right way, I guess. Itís different for each family and we just have to be open and respectful to the fact that I might want to be alone but then thereís my mom whoís dying because she just wants to hug her daughter.
Those are tough boundaries to figure out that balance.
We are on the mend and have had pretty great results.
They consider it remission until I think five years out, then they would call me cured, I think. Iíll go back for testing six months after my radiation stopped, so Iíll go back in February. When I go back for my surgery, Iíll have another scan, just to make sure that things are what we think they are.