Cancer strikes 4 times
RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS Nancy Betz of Hometown, who has suffered through four bouts of breast cancer, gives a thumbs-up as a show of her determination in fighting the sickness. She said the key to victory over the disease is having a good attitude, support from family and friends, and having faith in God.
Nancy Betz will receive a Courage Award next weekend during the annual telethon of the Tamaqua-Carbon Chapter of the American Cancer Society.
And what courage Betz possesses.
In the past 14 years, Betz, 42, of Hometown, has been struck with cancer four times. She has undergone radical surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
Yet Betz refuses to feel sorry for herself. She hasn't given up. She still attends kickboxing classes and walks her four Labrador retrievers, while certain that her latest bout will be conquered like those outbreaks in the past.
She insists she's going to live to the ripe old age of 95. She joked that by then, she'll have a Seeing Eye dog, a hearing aid, and a fancy motorized wheelchair.
"God's with me; he's keeping me here," she said. "God, family and friends."
Just as important, she added, is attitude.
There were times she wanted to give up. But her family, friends and faith pulled her through those periods.
"If you don't have the attitude, forget it," she said.
Betz is the former Nancy Schmidt of Pottsville. She moved to Hometown in 1990 with her husband, Jerome Betz. They have two sons, Jerome "Buddy" Betz III and Michael "Mikey" Betz, both at home.
It was in 2000 that Betz first was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She had visited her gynecologist, Dr. Richard Miller, and got a clean bill of health. A week later, she found a pea-size lump on her left breast.
"I blew it off," she said, but finally after about a week decided to have it checked. It was cancerous.
"They said it is stage IV," she said. "If I hadn't gotten it taken out and had my breast removed right away, I would have died in three to six months."
Stage IV means the cancer has spread from where it started to another body organ, also known as secondary or metastatic cancer.
She said she was told by her doctor that even after a checkup a tumor can quickly appear.
Her initial exam was only a general one; it didn't include a mammogram because her insurance wouldn't pay for one until she was 40.
Even after getting diagnosed with the breast cancer on the left side, she wanted to have a mastectomy on her right breast. Because she was so young and there was no cancer history in her family, the insurance wouldn't cover the cost for such a procedure. She was told there was little chance of recurrence.
But, two years later, she found a lump on her right breast which also was cancerous. Obviously she was devastated, especially having sons who were just ages 2 and 4 at the time. This was a Stage II cancer, carrying a better prognosis.
In 2004, she was diagnosed with cancer in her right side again.
Nine-and-a-half years later, the right side cancer returned for a third time.
In November 2013, she started radiation twice a day, needing 55 treatments. That's the maximum radiation she can receive. If the cancer returns, radiation would not be a treatment option.
On Feb. 21, she started weekly chemotherapy treatment for 18 weeks.
Some weeks she takes three different medications, which leaves her weak, causes extreme joint pains, and leaves her immune system vulnerable.
Every Friday she takes one more medication which makes her very tired.
The most depressing part of chemotherapy was losing her hair, she said
Asked about her current prognosis, she said she is in the process of having genetic testing to see why the vicious sickness keeps attacking her.
She added, "The prognosis is going to be good, as long as I can tolerate the medications."
Besides the above mentioned symptoms from the meds, others include being unable to place her hands in hot water because they feel "like they're on fire," blisters, infections, loss of appetite, and loss of weight.
Key to survival
She said one of the key reasons for her survival has been support from family and friends.
Betz said the first time she lost her hair through chemotherapy, her husband, an electrician, shaved his head so she would not be bald alone.
Her husband's parents, Jerome and Amelia Betz, lived with them and helped with the children and in other ways. Jerome died on lung cancer in 2011. He was diagnosed in June of that year and passed away two months later. Amelia died of colon cancer in 2009.
Demonstrating her resolve, she said pointed out that there are people worse-off than she is. As an example, a friend was diagnosed with thyroid cancer that spread to her tongue.
Doctors recently tried to insert a feeding tube in her because she couldn't eat, but were unsuccessful. As a result, they installed a port.
"I couldn't imagine what she's going through," Betz said.
"I have so many friends that want to help me," adding that her family has been very supportive.
She said she loves animals. She and her family have four Labs and also raise chickens.
She is a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Tamaqua.
Betz had advice for other cancer patients: "First, go out and get checked if you have a problem immediately!"
She waited a week.
"Waiting any longer would have been too late," Betz said.
She continued, "Have that confidence. Attitude is everything."
One other point she stressed is, "Got is everything. If you don't believe in God initially, you start believing because miracles do happen."
"If I can do it, they can do it," she said.
We'll be featuring other honorees in the next week leading up to the American Cancer Society telethon. They are Geralyn "Gerry" Andrews of Lehighton, Nick Hawkey of Kunkletown and Heidi Mann of Jim Thorpe.