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Thinking life: Breast cancer survivor considers attitude strong medicine

Profile image for Lucinda Breeding
Lucinda Breeding

Dolores Nabors had been in the Portland, Oregon, area for a few weeks.

It was 2010, and she'd been in town maybe four weeks. Nabors, 84, was giving Portland a six-week trial run to see if a move from Denton to the West Coast, where Nabors' daughter Cecile lives with her husband, would be a good plan.

"I stood up and felt really dizzy," Nabors said. "Cecile was going to call EMS, but I told her, 'Just let me lie here for a minute.' I did some yoga breathing."

Cecile checked Nabors' pulse. It was racing, Nabors said. The dizziness was gone, but something was wrong.

As much as she resisted, Nabors agreed she should go to the emergency room in Newberg, southwest of Portland.

"The doctor came in and he leaned on the rail of my hospital bed. He looked at me and said, 'Well, you're an amazing woman.' I said, 'Why is that?' And he told me I'd survived a pulmonary embolism — I had blockages in both lungs,'" Nabors said.

There was a treatment for the embolism, the doctor told her. But there was bad news.

"'You have breast cancer,' he said," Nabors recalled.

Second time around with the big C

It wasn't the first time a doctor had told Nabors she had cancer.

In her late 20s, Nabors was diagnosed with cancer of her parotid gland, a salivary gland just in front of the ear. Nabors had the gland removed as part of the treatment. She still has a faint scar.

After beating cancer, Nabors went on with the business of raising three children. Her son, Michael, practices medicine in Round Rock, and her daughter Maria works for Denton ISD. A Houston native, Nabors raised her family in Austin, where she worked as a financial aid administrator. Nabors divorced, and in 1998, she moved to Denton.

Deciding how to fight

After Nabors got out of the hospital, she decided not to move to Oregon. Instead, she'd head home to Denton and figure out what to do to fight her second bout with cancer. Her breast cancer diagnosis came about 50 years after her first diagnosis.

"I wanted to come home, where I have doctors I know," Nabors said. She also had family — her daughter Maria and her grandchildren.

Nabors had a needle biopsy, which confirmed she had cancer in both breasts. She doesn't remember what stage the cancer was, or what type of breast cancer she had when doctors discovered it, but she said it was an early detection.

"I had two choices. I could have chemo and radiation, or I could have a mastectomy," Nabors said. A mastectomy is the removal of the breast. "I really didn't want to do radiation. I almost don't want to say it, but I think it's bad for you."

Nabors opted for a double mastectomy. She suffered complications after surgery and stayed in the hospital for nearly a week.

Then she went home to recover.

Giving cancer an attitude

"Survival has a lot to do with your attitude," Nabors said. "I read a book by Bernie Siegel called Love, Medicine & Miracles. He's a surgeon, and he's written about how important your mind is in healing."

Nabors said she kept up practicing yoga regularly at North Lakes Recreation Center until a broken foot sidelined her. She's practiced meditation since the 1970s, and she's a longtime member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, an earth-centered ministry of Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. She practiced Religious Science — a discipline that marries spiritual, philosophical and metaphysical beliefs and practices — for years.

"My beliefs are eclectic," she said. "I didn't focus on the fact that I had cancer. I let the doctors do that."

Nabors has a lot of friends and interests. She tries not to miss Ancient Aliens on Friday nights on the History channel.

She still has some pain and limited mobility since her mastectomy. She went through the grief of losing her breasts. She considered reconstructive surgery, but the treatment for her pulmonary embolism makes the surgery too risky. 

"That was hard. So much of who you are as a woman is based on your body, and your appearance," she said. "But I had to come to terms with the fact that they're gone. They're gone. I've accepted it. That's part of avoiding depression. Accepting what is."

Nabors is cancer-free. She still visits her oncologist for yearly checkups and blood tests.

She keeps her eyes open to the world around her, she said, and her thoughts positive.

"I'm still here," she said. "I listen. That's part of my spiritual practice — meditation for the healing of the planet, the healing of others and the healing of yourself."

LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.

FEATURED PHOTO: Dolores Nabors, 84, of Denton had a double mastectomy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. (Jake King/DRC)