A Survivor's Story: The smiling survivor

By Sheena Barnett | NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – One side effect of breast cancer for Belva Poland: It meant adding a few deer heads to her walls.
Her husband, Pete, is an avid hunter, and throughout their marriage asked if he could line the walls of their home with deer heads.
“B.C. – Before Cancer – I said, no deer heads. He put them up at his office, so you’d walk in and you’d see four deer heads and a bobcat and a fox,” she said. “But now, after cancer, I said, bring them all in. They make him so happy. And that’s what cancer does, it just makes you appreciate.”
It’s that sense of humor and zest for life that kept Poland pepped up for her battle with breast cancer.
Battling for her life
The 61-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer last May.
“I was one of those people who doesn’t think it can happen to you. I was rocking and rolling along. I was in relatively good health. You don’t know you have it unless you get screened,” she said.
There wasn’t a trace of breast cancer in her family, and she felt fine, she said.
She discovered a lump while on a vacation, and came back the following Monday to have it checked out. The diagnosis was quick, and Poland was stunned.
“I had an out-of-body experience,” she said.
The tumor was large, so her doctors recommended chemotherapy to reduce its size before surgery. Poland opted for a double mastectomy to reduce the chances of its recurrance.
Poland battled breast cancer from May 2010 until March 2011. She followed her doctors’ instructions diligently.
“If they told me to stand on my head, I’d do it,” she said, laughing.
Though losing her hair broke her heart, she quickly learned to love her cute blonde wigs.
“I was never late to church,” she joked.
Still, her altered appearance dampened her spirits.
In the middle of her chemo, she fell in her yard and broke her nose in two places. The next day, she looked at herself in the mirror: bald, from the chemo, with a broken nose and bruises that stretched from both eyes to her chin.
“I looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘Who are you?’ My hair was falling out. My face was black to my chin. No one would know who I was,” she said. “Pete looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think it looks that bad.’ He was so sweet. He was trying so hard.”
Just as supportive as her husband were the couple’s two daughters, Mandy, 35, and Kelly, 29, and Poland’s friends.
Her pals created what they called the Chemo Club. They’d join her when she went in for her treatments.
“When they’d open the door and call my name, we’d all jump up and go, ‘Yes!’” she said, laughing. “We tried to make it not so down.”
Poland also thanks her co-workers for getting her through the tough times.
She was lucky: The chemotherapy didn’t make her too sick, so she was able to return to her job in the women’s department at Reed’s while taking her treatments.
“Work was therapeutic,” Poland said. “It gave me a sense of normalcy.”
Ups and downs
Poland insists that while she shared some laughter during her treatment, there was also plenty of pain and tears.
“I cried for two weeks. I couldn’t stop crying,” she said. “There are stages you have to go through, and then the fight’s on.”
But these days, Poland said, “I feel really good.”
She is cancer-free but keeps up with her health and her doctors’ visits. Those visits still make her a little nervous.
“It’s a little scary when you go, because you don’t want them to find anything else. But so far I’ve been blessed,” she said.
Belva Poland is a survivor, a winner. She beat breast cancer. And that makes her appreciate her life, her “precious husband and family,” which includes her six grandchildren, her friends, her job, her church. She’s learned to take life in stride and appreciate the little things in life – like her husband’s deer heads.
“Life is short,” she said. “We really don’t have a lot of time, so you have to make every day count.”