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Marsha Dale: Breast Cancer Wife

Dale, the inspiration for her husband's book, Breast Cancer Husband, coped with treatment by anchoring herself to the "normal" parts of her life.

Marsha Dale, 58

Bethesda, Md.

Teaches English as a second language and diversity training at a Virginia high school

Diagnosed in 2001

Marsha Dale’s husband, Marc Silver, was so appalled at his not-so-helpful reaction to the news of his wife’s breast cancer (“eew, that doesn’t sound good”) that he wrote a book, Breast Cancer Husband, to help other husbands better support their wives through times of crisis and the duration of treatment.

Dale was diagnosed in 2001, after a call back to a suspicious mammogram revealed a tumor, and further tests revealed a second tumor in her other breast. She also had microscopic traces of breast cancer in her sentinel lymph node. Her treatment consisted of two lumpectomies, chemotherapy--six cycles of CAF--and radiation.

The timing of Dale’s cancer couldn’t have been worse. She got her diagnosis on Aug. 31, 2001, 10 days before the nation was plunged into tragedy. As a teacher, it was the beginning of her school term, and her treatment spanned the entire school year. Adding to the list, her daughter was about to be Bat Mitzvahed, which involved lots of planning and time-consuming tasks.

“We had some funny moments, like sitting in my surgical gown at the hospital practicing Hebrew chants. But the Bat Mitzvah was an anchor to normalcy and turned out to be wonderful distraction,” Dale says.

She didn’t want to miss many days of work, so she scheduled her medical treatments around her teaching duties to minimize sick days. ”I needed the sense of normality I got from being at school. Once when I stayed home because I felt sick, I had a terrible day thinking morbid thoughts,” she recalls. “It was my lowest point.” Her chemotherapy appointments were always after school on Fridays and she returned to work Monday morning. For weeks, she drove from school to radiation treatments and then home.

There were a few complicating factors during her illness. Dale had a port installed in her chest because her veins were too small for chemotherapy. Then she was one of the handful of patients who had respiratory problems as a result of the port, which landed her in the emergency room for a night. Once she finished chemotherapy, and her port was removed, she was fine.

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