Cancer journey ‘just a speed bump’ in a blessed life

When Barbara Selden talks about her journey with breast cancer, she uses words that might surprise some people — words such as blessed, gift, gratitude and joy.

Selden serves as administrative assistant and medical staff coordinator at Northern Colorado Rehabilitation Hospital in Johnstown. It was there that she received a phone call following her yearly mammogram in February 2012.

With a strong history of breast cancer in her family, Selden, of Greeley, began getting mammograms earlier than most women. Both her mother and her maternal grandmother had had the disease. In 2009, Selden had a benign tumor removed.

She had that mammogram, her 13th, on a Thursday. “They told me if I didn’t get a call back on Friday, I’d be good,” she shared. “Sunday night I was getting my work clothes ready, and I thought, ‘Hey, they didn’t call me. I’m good for another year.’

“I came to work the next day, and they called. They had seen something suspicious. ‘We need you to come back for an ultrasound,’ they said. My first thought was, ‘They’re wasting my time.’ I was in denial.”

The ultrasound heightened concerns. Selden was sent for a biopsy, which came back positive for Stage 2 breast cancer. “It was devastating” she said. And yet, Selden is quick to point out, “I was blessed that they found it. This happened because a radiologist saw a subtle difference from the year before.”

Her physician recommended a bilateral mastectomy, followed by removal of her ovaries, because her type of cancer was, “fed by estrogen.”

During a visit with the surgeon who would perform the second surgery, another ultrasound was taken. The results led the surgeon to recommend that a hysterectomy also be performed.

“I had the bilateral done, and three weeks after that, the hysterectomy,” said Selden. “The uterus came back precancerous. Having it removed was another huge blessing.”

In spite of her family history, genetic testing showed that Selden did not carry any of the genes for breast cancer.

She expresses gratitude to her husband, daughters, family, friends and co-workers, who helped make her journey a positive experience.

After her surgeries, all Selden wanted to do was to get back to work. “It was very healing for me. I had a huge support staff here. I would take off my chemo day (Thursday) and be back to work the next day. The effects of the chemo wouldn’t hit until Saturday. I came back to work each Monday, and as the week progressed, I got better.” And so it went for the 18 weeks of her chemotherapy.

“I felt like being here at work with my friends was very healing for me and helped me move forward,” she said. “We have patients here who don’t have a limb, and they’re as happy as can be. I had no hair, and I was so caught up in it. It was then I realized, we can be victims, or we can find the blessings.

“I tried to think of my journey, my cancer, as a speed bump in my life,” she added. “It wasn’t a road block. I just needed to slow down to take care of this. It caused me to be healthier.”

Next year, Selden will celebrate her five-year anniversary of being diagnosed. Her mother-in-law, who also had breast cancer, will celebrate her 10th anniversary. Her mother will be celebrating 19 years of being cancer free.”

Selden’s experiences have led her to reach out to others and serve as a mentor to other women facing breast cancer. Physicians, friends and co-workers often refer someone they know, who has been recently diagnosed, to her.

I like to let people know there is hope. There are so many options, so many resources that people don’t know about. I don’t want to tell anybody what to do, but I do want to be a resource,” she said. “I want to give them ideas on things I didn’t know about that I now know can help them.”

One example Selden shares was learning, the hard way, that chemotherapy can be rough on bones. Approximately one year after ending her chemotherapy, she fractured her pelvis. Had she known her bone density was a problem before she began treatment, a medication could have been added to her infusions that might have prevented the problem. That information now holds a place of importance on her list of “things to do before chemo” that she shares with other women.

Barbara Selden finds joy mentoring women facing breast cancer by sending cards, letters, care packages, informational packages and by offering a listening ear.

She encourages women to be advocates for themselves. “Learn,” she tells them. “If you don’t understand what the doctor is saying, ask again. Don’t walk away pretending you understand if you don’t, because this is all about you and you getting the help that you need.”


By Jeannie Lancaster – Reporter-Herald Staff Writer