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Breast Cancer Awareness Month: My Grandma a Two time survivor

Breast cancer. It seems like most people are touched by it in one way or another, and being that it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to share about my grandma, who is a two-time survivor.

{June 2012}

My Grandma Faye is a tough woman. Raised in the small farm town of Woodruff, Utah, she had worked on the farm since she was a young girl–with no electricity anywhere on the property. When she was 17, her mother died from Lyme disease she got from a tick. Faye had two older sisters who were deaf and living at home, one sister away at college, and two younger brothers, whom she was expected to care for. Just a week after her mom unexpectedly died, Faye got appendicitis, and still reeling from the medical and funeral bills, her father couldn’t afford to have doctors take her appendix out. She suffered for weeks before it burst, and though she survived, it left a lot of scar tissue. She experienced the worry of the Depression, and Pearl Harbor was attacked during her senior year of high school.

Grandma put herself through nursing school, and just after she married my grandpa, in 1946, she was told she couldn’t have children because of the scar tissue in her abdomen, coupled with hemorrhagic cysts. The doctors needed to remove one ovary because of the cysts, but they were able to leave one slightly unhealthy ovary untouched. Miraculously, she became pregnant with my mom and was able to carry her to full term and raise a healthy baby. Three years later came my aunt. Grandma longed for more children, but it wasn’t to be. Right around age 40, when she suffered from 20-day-long periods and occasional hemorrhaging, she had a hysterectomy.

Shortly thereafter, she discovered a very small lump in her left breast. Turns out, it was benign–negative for cancer. She continued her self-checks, and 20 years later, she discovered another lump in her left breast, which turned out to be cancerous–malignant. Doctors performed a lumpectomy and removed a few lymph glands, and after some radiation treatments, all appeared well.

Then, just four years later, a mammogram detected an abnormality in her RIGHT breast this time. First a lumpectomy found tissue still cancerous on the edges. A second surgery still didn’t seem to catch it all either, so the doctors recommended a mastectomy, removing her entire right breast all the way down to the ribcage. She said the physical recovery wasn’t so bad, it was the emotional toll that was the most difficult part. She had known it would be, though, because she had watched her mother-in-law suffer from the emotional effects of a double mastectomy that she’d had before they’d even met. I didn’t realize that my great-grandmother had had a double mastectomy way back in the 1940s. A part of your womanhood is taken away. Grandma said she was mostly worried that people would possibly notice the “unevenness” of the prosthesis inserted into her bra. She said Grandpa has always been so supportive and bolstered her up if ever she felt insecure. To this day, he likes to tell me how beautiful my grandma is, and how lucky he is to have won her hand in marriage.

Today, my grandma is a healthy 88, and this summer I got to take my children to the home that she shares with my grandpa. A few years ago, she told me stories of when she was a young mom and the ladies in the neighborhood would send their children to knock on her door when they were worn out from parenting. She was the softie on the street, and all the kids knew she would give them her love. When I heard that story, while in the thick of mothering young children myself, my grandma became more real to me than she ever had. I think the part I liked best was when she told me how annoyed she was that mothers would still send their children to her home even as she cared for my mom and aunt when they had fevers. Actually hearing that frustration brought home to me the reality that she was once a young mother too.

My grandma is so sweet and mellow and could never hurt a fly. She collects placemats from places she travels, loves her family, and can’t stop asking what she can do for me when I visit. Her skin is so delicate and lovely, she has always taken care of it, she loves Cheetos, and she has always demonstrated her faith to me.

When I found out that Bank of America partnered with the Susan G. Komen™ for the Everyday Portraits experience, I really wanted to be a part of it to share my grandmother’s story and to honor her. So I created a portrait of my grandma by uploading a picture of her on this Bank of America website and sharing part of the story I wrote about above. My words became the image I uploaded, and the result is this lovely piece of artwork based on the photo of grandma and me from the top of this post.


If you have a loved one who has been impacted by breast cancer and you’d like to share their story and their strength, you can make a similar artistic portrait, at no cost, via Bank of America. For every portrait made in the month of October, Bank of America will contribute $5 to the Susan G. Komen™.  This is a meaningful way to participate in Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you feel so inclinded, you can also donate $5 to the cause on that same link.  I’d also love to hear about that loved one in the comments below. 

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  1. Jacqueline says:

    So sweet to read how your grandfather treats your grandmother!

  2. What a touching story. Your Grandma is truly a survivor. She reminds me a lot of my grandmother who also had breast cancer but sadly, never overcame it. The kids loved her because she was soft, kind, and full of sweetness. Your very fortunate to have your Grandma and to be able to share her story.
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  3. What an amazing woman! Thank you for sharing.

  4. Wow! I knew she had breast cancer but I don’t remember being told that she had a mastectomy. I never noticed at all. Thanks for sharing this Kristen!! We love Grandma. :)

    • Kristen Duke says:

      So many details of that story were new to me when I asked her to tell me about it….I did know that part though. She is so love-able.

  5. Beautiful story. My grandmother has so many stories to share and isn’t doing so well now that she’s approaching 90. I wish I took the time to document them…I still have time though!
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