Breast Cancer Survivor: Renee Bissell

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    Ken Bissell
    Contributor
    SEARCY – There are those
    rare times in our lives when
    we vividly remember where
    we were and what we were
    doing the moment we “heard
    the news,” either good or
    bad. One of those instances
    occurred the afternoon of
    Fri., Aug. 10, 2007 when I
    learned that my wife Renee
    was diagnosed with breast
    cancer.
    We expected the doctor’s
    call that morning but it didn’t
    come until late in the day.
    She was home in Nolensville,
    Tenn., south of Nashville,
    with her best friend Nancy.
    I was attending a board
    meeting for a nonprofit I
    served on the north side
    of the city. After multiple
    efforts to reach me via my
    cell phone, Nancy broke the
    news as I sat shocked and
    dumbfounded in my car.
    I found myself driving for
    more than an hour through
    rush hour traffic, desperate
    to get home to help Renee
    shoulder the heartbreak
    and fear that we both were
    experiencing. In an instant,
    our lives were turned upside
    down. A week after the doctor’s
    call, she underwent
    single mastectomy surgery
    at Vanderbilt Medical Center.
    Barely a month later,
    she faced the first of eight
    rounds of chemotherapy.
    Every other Monday from
    October through January,
    she endured the three to
    four-hour sessions, each
    one taking a greater toll on
    her body than the previous
    sitting. Continuous nausea,
    severe body aches, extreme
    fatigue and terribly painful
    mouth sores were among the
    side effects of the chemicals
    that were pumped in her
    body to kill the cancer.
    In just two weeks, her hair
    began falling out in bunches
    leading to the inevitable
    baldness that comes with
    the treatments.
    Watching her suffer beyond
    anything either of
    could have anticipated was
    compounded by the challenge
    of managing a home
    that included three young
    teenagers. Our children
    were troopers, but it was up
    to me to be both the dad and
    mom during those darkest
    days when Renee literally
    could not get out of bed. To
    say that life was grim in the
    fall and winter of 2007-08 is
    an understatement.
    Prior to her scheduled
    reconstruction surgery in
    March 2008, Renee decided to have the other removed as a precaution.
    The type of cancer she had
    was known to be aggressive
    and potentially recurring.
    We both concluded that life
    is more precious than body
    parts, so it was an easy
    decision.
    It’s been eight years
    since we received the bleak
    news that hot August day.
    In spite of the monumental
    and life-changing challenge,
    there were valuable lessons
    learned in the process. Both
    of us were people of faith,
    but we discovered a new
    reliance on God that we had
    never experienced before.
    The support we received
    from family and friends was
    overwhelming.
    We witnessed a strength
    in our children that we likely
    would’ve never seen had we
    not endured this difficult
    chapter as a family. And
    the depth of our love for
    each other extended beyond
    anything we had known in
    the previous 20 years of our
    marriage. I knew I married
    up, but never knew just how
    strong my wife was. She is,
    without a doubt, the most
    courageous person I know.
    Today life is good. Renee
    is cancer free and enjoys
    a relatively healthy body.
    The residual side effects are
    manageable. We now live
    in Searcy, where both of us
    work for our alma mater,
    Harding University, and all
    three of our children attend.
    We both occasionally
    have opportunity to share
    our story with couples who
    find themselves in the same
    place we were eight years
    ago. We give God all the honor
    and praise for carrying us
    through that difficult time
    and giving us perspective
    on life. As I tell those who
    are facing similar battles, He
    never promised us a painless
    life and He never forsakes us
    when we face up to it.
    Ken Bissell is a Center
    Point native and a former
    sports editor for The Nashville
    News.

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