Thankful for sisters, real-life guardian angels and dandelions
Linda Thomason and her twin sister
Linda Thomason is used to the double takes and moments of mistaken identity that come with being an identical twin. And, she and her look-alike sister share an uncanny emotional connection, too, she says.
"We can call each other and say, 'I was just thinking about the time that...,' and the other one will finish the sentence," says the 61-year-old UnitedHealthcare member from Columbus, Ga. "It's happened all our lives. So, it's natural for us."
In 1998, when the women were 47 years old, Linda's twin made a call that wasn't just to chat or reminisce. She had troubling news she'd been diagnosed with breast cancer.
On high alert
Of course, the news of her sister's diagnosis was difficult for Linda. And, it was concerning to her own doctors, as well. Because of her close family history, her chances of having breast cancer climbed significantly, they said.
Linda wondered what to do. A specialist she saw offered her an option to participate in a breast cancer prevention study. Linda agreed. As part of the study, she took the medicine raloxifene for five years and had regular mammograms.
Prevention appeared to be working for Linda. In late 2010, as her next mammogram approached, everything seemed fine. She even thought about cancelling. "I've skated along all these years," she recalls thinking. "If something was going to show up, it would have shown up by now."
Fortunately, she had a last-minute change of heart something told her to go. "My guardian angel is the only way I can explain it," she says.
This mammogram wasn't like the others. The X-ray revealed what testing later confirmed: Linda had cancer in her right breast. Immediately, she thought of her twin. "My first thought was, It's my turn," she says.
Another guardian angel
Linda Thomason with Shannon, her UnitedHealthcare support nurse
Throughout Linda's diagnosis, treatment and recovery, her husband and sister were there for support and comfort. And, so was someone Linda calls "another guardian angel" Shannon, a UnitedHealthcare cancer support nurse.
Shannon called Linda to see how she might be of help. It was the first of many comforting calls. Among other things, Shannon helped answer questions about various treatments. And, she gave Linda good questions to ask her doctors.
Working closely with her doctor to choose the best option for her situation, Linda decided to have a double mastectomy. And, she was able to have reconstructive surgery as part of the procedure.
Through it all, Shannon was a steady source of information and support. She called sometimes just to see how Linda was doing. And, at times, Linda called her, too.
There were days when Linda needed "pep talks," she says. And, she's grateful Shannon was just a phone call away for that. "She was very supportive, loving and caring and kind.
"She became like a close friend," Linda says. "She makes you feel like you are her only patient."
Her wish for others
Linda hopes women who read this particularly twins will talk with their doctors about their breast cancer risk.
And, she wants her story to remind others of the importance of regular screening. Had she skipped the mammogram that found her cancer, her story might have had a different ending, she says.
"Don't blow off your appointments, even if you think it's not necessary."
A beautiful life
With breast cancer behind them, Linda and her sister are enjoying their health and each other. In fact, the last two years they've taken cruises together to celebrate their birthday.
Linda also has a deep appreciation for life's sweet, simple moments. Some days that's receiving a freshly picked dandelion bouquet from her granddaughter. Or, taking nature walks and bicycle rides with all her grandkids.
"I value life with them," she says. "You have to enjoy each moment of every day."