Proefrock faces fears to beat cancer diagnosis

BIG RAPIDS — For Linda Proefrock, a retired teacher from Reed City Middle School, cancer was the most frightening thing she could think of enduring.

"It was my biggest fear in the world," she said. "As a child, when I was 12, my aunt died of breast cancer and her treatment was horrific. Fifty years ago, she had a radical mastectomy, was burned with radiation and cooked with chemo. So that was my mindset and it always was my biggest fear that I could have."

In April, she attended Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center in Grand Rapids and was diagnosed with breast cancer. The 2-inch mass found by physicians was undetectable through a routine mammogram or self examination. Doctors first wanted Proefrock to have a lumpectomy, but a pathologist wanted a second opinion. Specimens of the mass were sent to the University of Michigan, where she received a recommendation to have a mastectomy due to its size.

To make things additionally stressful on Proefrock, her son had been diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma in January and was undergoing six months of chemotherapy, while her mother was going through radiation treatment for skin cancer.

"I was anxious," she said about hearing the diagnosis. "It brought back all of the memories from when I was 12. The experience was imprinted on my mind."

In May, Proefrock opted for a mastectomy in Grand Rapids and underwent nearly seven weeks of radiation therapy at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City. She was surprised at how wrong her fears really were.

"Treatment sounds a lot worse than it is as far as pain," she said. "I didn't have many restrictions, I could drive the next week. I really did pretty well. I felt good through treatment. I was a little tired through radiation, but it wasn't bad.

"There's a certain part of you that denies you've even been through cancer. It's almost unbelievable. It's your biggest fear in the world and all the sudden you wake up and you've done it."

The amount of support she received from staff at both facilities still astounds her. She gives thanks for the team and for having a local cancer center where she could receive treatment and comfort.

"When they called me they said, 'don't worry, we'll wrap our arms around you,' and they did," Proefrock said. "They were wonderful. The whole medical profession is much more people-oriented."

In addition to medical personnel, "faith, family and friends" were important to her through the ordeal.

Now in remission, Proefrock is focused on carrying on with living life as normally as possible, being involved in church activities, spending time with her family and enjoying her hobbies. She hopes sharing her story can help others who have received a diagnosis or going through cancer treatment can help ease any fear they may have about the near future.

"I want people to know cancer isn't always cut and dry," Proefrock said. "The treatment is so much better than it used to be, much more gentle. You can get through it."