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In the early 1980s, doctors diagnosed Linda Horner with metastatic breast cancer and gave her 6 months to live. Some 30 years later, she's alive and well and inspiring others with her story during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In the early 1980s, Linda Horner was given a death sentence.

At the time, doctors gave the 34-year-old mother of two six months to live. The prognosis came a year after the Saint Leon native and current Greensburg resident found a lump in one of her breasts during a self-exam.

Of finding that first lump, she recalled, “I was greatly concerned. It was 1982, and I was the mother of two young children. I went to my family physician — Dr. Morrison (deceased) — and he did an exam.”

Morrison’s diagnosis, however, came as big surprise.

“I was young and healthy, with no personal or family history of breast cancer or disease,” Horner said. “Plus, the lump was painful; that’s an unusual symptom with breast cancer. Dr. Morrison told me I had nothing to worry about. He said the lump was nothing more than a benign cyst. I asked him if we should do some further testing, but he was sure of the diagnosis.”

Horner left the doctor that day greatly reassured and settled back into her life, certain she had nothing to worry about.

Only, she did.

A year later, contrary to Morrison’s prognosis, the lump still hadn’t disappeared. In fact, it had gotten bigger and even more painful. More ominously, Horner had also sprouted a “jelly-bean-sized” lump in her neck.

“It [the lump] was painful and impossible to sleep on,” she recalled. “But I remember saying to my husband, ‘surely it can’t be cancer, because the doctor said it wasn’t.”

Horner worked as a paralegal in Lawrenceburg at the time. The lawyer she worked for was “greatly concerned” and recommended another Dearborn county doctor working at the same hospital where Morrison was based.

Dr. Frable’s diagnosis wasn’t nearly so rosy as Morrison’s: Breast cancer.

Uncertain how much Horner’s cancer might have spread, Frable performed a lumpectomy, which confirmed the worst: The cancer had metastasized into Horner’s lymphatic system. In addition to the cancer in her neck and breast, Frable also found several tumors in the lymph nodes beneath her armpits.

In fact, as Frable would tell his patient afterward, he found so much metastasized cancer in Horner’s body, surgical removal wasn’t possible. The only bright spot was that the cancer hadn’t yet spread to any vital organs.

“I could slice you up into little pieces,” Frable told her, “and still miss some of the cancer.”

Horner’s only chance, then, lay in radiation and chemotherapy.

Frable referred his patient to a respected oncologist, and his prognosis was even more grim.

“Dr. Pantcoast told my husband and me to update our will and get our affairs in order. I had six months to live,” Horner said.

To her credit, Horner didn’t buy it; neither did her support network.

“In addition to my husband,” Horner recalled, “I had 13 other people with me when Pantcoast gave me six months. Most of them were couples from a marriage-encounter group Joe and I were part of at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in New Alsace (Horner is a life-long, practicing Catholic). They’re all friends to this day.”

Everyone in that support network was extremely vocal and adamant that Horner shouldn’t accept Pantcoast’s diagnosis. Even after another oncologist in Pantcoast’s practice reviewed Horner’s chart and delivered the same prognosis, neither Horner, her husband or any member of her support group accepted the death sentence.

“I didn’t believe it,” Horner recalled. “I felt too healthy, too alive, and I had too much to live for. I was determined to raise my daughters. Plus, all the support I was getting went a long way in making me believe, ‘yea, this isn’t okay. These doctors have dismissed me to die far too easily.’”

Horner chastised Pantcoast and his group, telling them that her care needed to be more of a “joint effort,” with more focus on how to save her as opposed to helping her submit and prepare to die.

One member of Horner’s support group was especially knowledgeable regarding medicine.

“Peggy Schmeltzer is an RN,” Horner explained. “She was my biggest advocate. Everyone else in our group was just as feisty, but none were as knowledgeable.”

It was through Schmeltzer that Horner would finally connect with a doctor willing to help her.

In that doctor, Horner would find someone whose personality and determination matched well with her own; a doctor ahead of his time in the treatment of breast cancer; someone with the medical expertise to make a difference in her prognosis; a doctor capable and willing to fight for her life.

Contact: Rob Cox at 812-663-3111 x7011.

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