Breast cancer took my twin too soon

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By June Stokes

juneandjoan3yrsold.JPGJune Stokes was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in April 2000. She was told she had 12-18 months to live. June has been cancer free for 11 years, and hopes her experience will offer comfort and peace to those who are beginning their journey with (or after) a diagnosis of cancer.
I remember how wonderful life was growing up with a constant companion. Then,my twin sister, Joan, died from complications of breast cancer at 38. We had separate hearts, but they beat as one.

Joan and I were born on September 18, 1936. In that era, twins always dressed alike even if they were fraternal. Joan and I were complete opposites; she was fair with green eyes and curly blonde hair, left-handed, loud and always the life of the party.

I had dark olive skin, brown eyes and straight hair that Mama rolled every night to make it curly like Joan's. I was right-handed, and though I was friendly, I was much more reserved than Joan.

It's hard for people to understand just how close same sex twins and especially females become. Though we had different dispositions, we never fought. When you have a playmate 100% of your life, you are never lonely. We slept together, ate together, dressed alike from head to toe and were best friends. There was always a "oneness" to us.

When we were in the tenth grade, we met the Stokes brothers. Joan had a date with Sammy in November 1951. When he came to get Joan in January, he brought his brother, Arthur.

Arthur and I were married on April 29, 1956, and when Sammy graduated from college, he and Joan were married that year in June. We lived in separate apartments about 10 miles apart. We had the same in-laws, and during holiday gatherings we were all together.

The conversation that changed it all
It was August1972 when Joan phoned me one morning before leaving for work and asked if I would meet her at the Hair and Carlton Clinic (Carlton and Luke Clinic of Lecompte, La). She had found a lump in her left breast. Her son, Jody, was six weeks old.

We waited for the doctor to examine Joan. He called a surgeon immediately. The following day she was scheduled to have a mastectomy. That meant removing the breast tissue and all of the lymph nodes.

I was in the surgery waiting room when the surgeon said she would need chemotherapy and radiation. Cobalt was the type of radiation at that time. She was 36 years old.

Afterwards, Joan became very depressed in the hospital. She didn't want the drapes opened and kept the room dark. Because she was a very vivacious person, this change worried all of us.

Medication helped her depression, and the "old Joan" returned to us. Since Jody was a new baby, I would go by and pick him up on my way home from work and keep him during the night and take him home the following morning. Joan had a maid who cared for him during the day. Her daughter was 10 years old, and the oldest son was 16.

She seemed to be doing quite well but in March 1973, she phoned me and was very upset. Her chest X-ray revealed a mass in her "good" lung...the lung opposite from her surgery site.

After radiation her skin was burned, and she had a deep hole from the breast removal.

Even after more chemotherapy and more radiation the cancer had spread to the other lung three months later.

Read part II "My sister's treatment at MD Anderson," Friday, July 20th.

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