Billie Oden

Mother and two daughters diagnosed with breast cancer

Billie Oden has been a registered nurse for more than 30 years. For most of that time, she has taken care of patients seeking a kidney transplant at East Texas Medical Center in Tyler. Billie is used to comforting patients through one of the toughest journeys of their life.

She also knew it was important to take care of herself, and receive regular mammograms. So it came as a shock when she was called in for a biopsy and diagnosed with breast cancer. Billie had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Fortunately, the cancer had not spread. She underwent a lumpectomy and radiation treatments.

Her coworkers were very understanding and supportive. Billie says her husband of 47 years was so wonderful and caring during this difficult time. “I was completely out of my element,” she said. “I’ve never been so sick that I needed someone to take care of me.”

The most difficult part was when she received the news that her oldest daughter, Nickie Oden Loftin, also a nurse in Conroe, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38. “I discovered my own lump, since I was waiting until 40 to get my first mammogram,” said Nickie. “I was stage IIIc, and had more than 12 positive lymph nodes. I had chemotherapy, a radical mastectomy and 30 doses of radiation at a Houston hospital. After six months, I had reconstruction, and to reduce my risk of future cancer, I also had a mastectomy on my other breast.”

Nickie says chemo was difficult for her because she has a history of motion sickness. “I continued to work, because I had to since my husband is disabled. My team members were helpful, as well as my best friend, in supporting me.”

Billie’s middle daughter, Cindy Rozelle, started having mammograms at age 35, after her sister’s diagnosis. A couple of weeks before her 38th birthday, Cindy had her annual mammogram. Dr. Michael Klouda, medical director at the ETMC Breast Care Center, called her back for an ultrasound and biopsy. “I was so scared when he told me I had breast cancer, because my sister had just completed her treatment and surgeries, and I knew how hard it was for her,” said Cindy.

Cindy was stage III, and doctors recommended she have bilateral mastectomies, because of her family history. “I started chemo on my 38th birthday. A few weeks into treatment, I asked my mother to shave my head when my hair started falling out. She cried.”

“It was devastating to have my daughters diagnosed with breast cancer,” said Billie. “You want to protect them from all the bad things, but there was nothing I could do. I wished I could take the pain away from them.”

Billie and her three daughters all had genetic testing, but it came back negative. The youngest daughter Kristina continues to be monitored.

Today, Billie and her daughters are cancer free. Billie hopes that women who hear their stories will get their mammograms and do self-breast exams. “Give yourself a mammogram every year on your birthday, so you don’t forget. The best gift you can give yourself is the gift of life. The earlier they find it, the better chances you have for recovery and survival.”

ETMC offers genetic testing

Sophisticated genetic testing is available in East Texas for evaluating a patient’s risk for cancers of the breast, ovaries and other sites.

The process starts with an exam at the ETMC Breast Care Center in Tyler. “We do a thorough assessment of their whole family cancer history as best they can recollect it,” said Dr. Michael Klouda, medical director of the ETMC Breast Care Center. “We then evaluate that, and if they meet certain criteria, we consult with them on the fact that they are eligible for genetic testing.”

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce proteins to help ensure the cell’s genetic stability. Genetic mutations of these genes are associated with an increased risk of cancer. With the patient’s consent a saliva specimen is taken, and sent to a testing lab.

“If they have genetic testing and it’s negative, and yet they have a very suspicious family history,” Dr. Klouda explained, “that could mean there’s still an elevated cancer risk. There may be a mutation in that family that we just don’t know about yet. A positive test doesn’t mean they’re definitely going to develop cancer,” he said. “It does mean that over a period of years we can tell them they have a certain percentage chance to develop breast cancer.”

Go to the ETMC Breast Care Services page.