Yesterday morning my office had our standard Monday morning ‘huddle’ to discuss the events of the week. Part of the itinerary was promotions, one of which will be for Breast Cancer Awareness Month which starts on October 1. As a plastic surgeon, I have seen enough breast cancer patients in my career that I, regretfully, cannot recall every single one by name. There are many, many patients that have completed reconstruction for breast cancer and remain friends of mine to this day. For that I am eternally grateful. The person on the forefront of my thoughts this morning is Marsha. Let me tell you why…
Marsha Mudge is a very dear friend. She is also a patient of mine. She is 36 years old, a mother of two young boys. She is a nurse. She is a widow. She is battling stage 4 breast cancer.
If I didn’t have your attention from the start perhaps I do now. Yes, you read that right: a 36 year old widowed single mother with advanced breast cancer. I have always adhered to the belief that we are not faced with what we cannot handle. I also have always believed that everything happens for a reason. I am struggling to understand what the reason for Marsha’s reality is. I am baffled every single day to think how Marsha continues to fight with grace, humor and strength. I am in awe of her as so many others are.
Marsha has earned a tremendous following on social media from friends, family and strangers that are now fans and supporters. The hashtag ‘mudgestrong’ is linked to all benefits, events, and fund raisers. Please search for it to help support her and her boys. Marsha recently posted her story in her own words and I feel sharing that is far more appropriate than me trying to relate the story on her behalf:
‘Hello, my name is Marsha Mudge. I am 36 years old and this is my little story…..
John and I met in college at Midwestern State University. We married in August of 2004. We moved to New Braunfels, Texas in 2008 when he became the defensive coordinator for the New Braunfels Unicorns. Life seemed perfect. We welcomed two sons Tanner, in 2009, and Jackson, 2011. We were just an everyday family. In March of 2013, is when my world started flipping upside down. On Easter Sunday, John woke up with a stomach bug. The vomiting dissected his vertebral artery and my 32 year old, 6-foot 5 inch, 250 lb husband suffered a cerebral stroke. This was just a shock. John was one of the healthiest men I knew. He was active and threw around more weight than most young college kids. The stroke left John in a wheelchair and with a feeding tube. Through his amazing strength and determination, John fought back. Through months of therapy and countless hours of hard work, John walked on the football field and coached the 2013 season. He amazed his players, the community and myself with his courageous attitude and fighting spirit. I thought that would be our hardest challenge. Well I was very wrong. On March 21, 2014, I woke up with my 4 year son laying between us to find my husband dead in our bed. I tried to revive him even though I knew it was too late. While giving John CPR, I told Tanner to cover his face with his blanket and we sang twinkle twinkle little star until help arrived. I will never forget that night. I remember every haunting detail. So at 35 years old, I was left a widow to raise our 2 and 4 year sons. I don’t know if I really have ever gotten use to the idea of losing John, but the boys and I were starting to get into a routine. On April 13, 2015, the right side of my face went numb. I figured it was nothing and it was something that would just go away. Well after about two weeks it just kept lingering. I finally went to get it checked out and once again my world was jolted. A mass was discovered behind my eye orbit on my skull and after further testing the mass was only secondary to the cancer growing in my body. On May 5, at 36 years old I was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized to my skull, my c-spine, right rib, left underarm lymph, sacrum, and liver. From that moment on I have been fighting for my life.
In the middle of May, I started aggressive chemotherapy to start shrinking the cancer that was attacking my body. I had to take a two month break from the chemo because of how hard it was on my body. To date, I have had four round of chemo, the tumors are shrinking but I still have a long journey ahead of me. My next chemo is scheduled for September 11. After chemo, in the next few months I will have 3 or 4 major surgeries. Since my cancer is estrogen, progesterone and her-2 positive, I will have to get a hysterectomy. Due to my age and the aggressiveness of the cancer I will have a double mastectomy. After radiation, I will get reconstruction. I also may have to have a surgery to remove the tumor from my skull. While going through all the treatment and surgeries, it is still my job to raise my 3 and 5 year old boys. Due to medical bills and being a single mom, I am currently working full time as a school nurse not only for the income but also for medical benefits for me and the boys. This is my crazy life story in a few words. When my husband died, his quote became instantly famous. “If winning was easy….losers would do it.” He was right. Cancer is hard and painful and challenging but I am not a loser. I am ready to fight with all that I am and all that I have. I won’t go down easy….in fact, I won’t go down at all. Through this battle, I am going to smile and be as positive as I can be. I want to show my boys that even though life is hard we can get through anything and we will come out on top. I am so excited about the Party in Pink. I am so honored and grateful to be selected by Baby Face Too Salon and Spa. I don’t even have the words to describe how truly blessed I am.’
I remember the phone call on a Friday night in April from Marsha when she first got the report of the CT scan of her head. She had asked her primary care physician to please get a CT scan because of her symptoms, never to imagine what the report would read. She called to ask me to reassure her that when I had done her breast surgery 2 years prior that I found nothing of concern in her breasts. Indeed I absolutely had not. I was out of town when she first called me…the day I got back to Fort Worth I came to my office to pull her chart and pathology report: completely benign tissue, no concerns.
Three days after that initial call I was on the phone with her as she was waiting to be called back for a mammogram. It was Monday morning and I was in my car right outside my office, waiting to come inside for the Monday morning meeting. I remember asking her if she had felt or noticed anything at all…anywhere. No, nothing. We had a little pep talk, do not worry about anything until you are sure you have something to worry about. Within an hour, she called to tell me about the tumor in her left breast. Within the week she had the rest of the story, which she outlined in her own words above.
She has completed multiple rounds of chemotherapy so aggressive it has landed her in the hospital with dehydration, vomiting and diarrhea several times. Her concern while she was in the hospital was not about herself as much as her sons and about the idea she might miss a round of chemotherapy while her body recovered.
Within the past several weeks, scans have indicated that the tumors in her bones, specifically sacrum and skull, have not responded to the chemotherapy as the soft tissue tumors have. She started radiation to these areas a week ago today. In her efforts to educate, she posts pictures of her on the table with her green mesh face mask. She posts pictures from chemotherapy. She posts pictures of her with her boys at the zoo, at the pool. I am stunned, amazed at this woman’s drive, outlook, strength.
About a month ago I hosted a fundraiser for her in Fort Worth. As is the way of social media, her story has gone viral and friends of my friends follow her posts daily. People that have not met her ask me about her every day. Marsha lives four hours south of here in New Braunfels. The night of the benefit, she drove herself to town to attend then turned around and drove herself home that night so she could be with her boys and not miss work the following day. I begged her to stay the night, tried to find someone to drive her but no…she said the drive allowed her to think, to listen to music, maybe to cry. The event here was a success and I am planning another in a couple of months as her journey is a marathon not a sprint and financial support is all that I can possible offer to ease some of her concern. I am so grateful to so many that have funded and supported her.
Marsha is ALWAYS on my mind. When I am having a bad day, don’t want to do something, when the workout hurts or I’m too tired: Marsha. I have had so many amazing patients that have affected me very deeply…patients from many years ago that I might not have seen for so many years. Patients for breast cancer reconstruction, skin cancer reconstruction, cosmetic procedures…I am touched by all of them and so very grateful that so many have remained in my life both personally and professionally. Marsha has moved me the most and forever changed my perspective on so many things. In anticipation of Breast Cancer Awareness month I would ask your support for Marsha and for every other person you know battling breast cancer. Please pursue a mammogram if you have any family or personal history and have not yet done so. Please do what you can to support breast cancer research in your area. As a personal plea, consider donating to this amazing woman and her children.
Here’s up to it…and I specifically mean you, Marsha!