98-year-old puts quality of life first after diagnosis

Heaven can wait for Brownstown resident Anne M. Wells.

The 98-year-old lifelong Jackson County resident said she wasn’t too ruffled when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2016.

She hadn’t had regular mammograms over the years, but breast cancer wasn’t really on her radar, she said, even though her sister, Francis Perotta, died of breast cancer in 1991 at the age of 80.

Wells noticed a dark-colored discharge from her left nipple and knew something wasn’t right. She immediately made an appointment with her doctor, who ordered a mammogram.

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Results showed a minute, malignant tumor.

“I thought if that is what the Lord wants me to have, there is no need in fighting it,” Wells said. “I’ve had a good attitude, and it has helped.”

Wells never had a chance to get depressed, and even if she had, Wells said she doesn’t believe her strong constitution would have allowed it.

Peggy Wells said her initial thought when hearing the diagnosis was maybe her mother could have surgery to have the tumor removed. But the 64-year-old daughter quickly realized that wouldn’t be a viable option.

“We started doing research and found out that operating on someone of Mom’s age had great risks,” she said. “Knowing that, I didn’t want her operated on.”

Wells’ 61-year-old daughter, Jill Byers, said her mother has had many scares throughout her life, but they haven’t slowed her down.

“She had fluid on her heart a few years ago and had to have surgery, and I thought that was going to be the beginning of the end, and she came through it just fine,” Byers said.

Familial support is tremendously important, Wells said. Her four children accompany her to each doctor visit. That support is what helped Wells determine what her treatment regimen would look like.

Doctors determined that Wells’ tumor was receptive to hormone therapy and placed her on Arimidex, an oral chemotherapy drug used to treat breast cancer.

Wells took the medication for a brief time before she started experiencing debilitating side effects that made her feel like she was dying, she said.

Wells said if it was time to go, then it was time to go because one cannot live forever.

“So I quit taking it and asked my doctor what I should do,” Wells said. “She said, ‘If you were my mother, since the cancer is so small, I wouldn’t take anything.’”

A follow-up mammogram showed the tumor had shrunk slightly.

Wells and her children took the advice and said it helped them decide what avenue to pursue next.

“We weren’t asking for any other treatment,” Byers said. “Given her age and balancing quality of life, we decided to not do anything. She wants to enjoy her quality of life and see what happens.”

A woman of faith, Wells said this experience has certainly increased her belief in God.

“We just have to put our hand in the hand of the Lord,” she said. “I feel like I am helping a lot of people if they would know this simple truth. It would be comforting for those who are in their 90s and have cancer to know they just have to believe.”

Earlier this summer, Wells began having recurrent pain and leakage in the affected breast. But subsequent testing, including another mammogram, an ultrasound and a chest X-ray, were negative and showed the cancer had not spread and the tumor remained minute.

However, a blood test showed elevation in her white blood cells, so doctors placed her on an antibiotic.

“Thankfully, it was just an infection,” Byers said.

Doctors told Wells she wouldn’t need to undergo any additional mammograms or testing unless other symptoms presented.

Wells said she was overjoyed with the news.

“The biggest lesson this has taught me is cancer isn’t the big scary word it used to be,” Wells said. “I will tell you modern medicine has made great advances. I really feel they are going to have cancer licked entirely one day.”

Wells’ daughters said their mother is a source of inspiration.

Each day, Wells wakes up with gratitude for another day and is thankful for the simple things, Byers said.

“You always have to be mindful of how precious life is,” Byers said. “She just goes and goes, and you start to think, ‘Nothing is ever going to happen to her.’ I know how ridiculous that sounds, but she always comes through when something happens.”

Wells said she spends her free time playing bridge and spending time with family. At her age, the most valuable thing is to stay busy, she says. Attitude is everything.

She realizes how frightening a journey cancer is, and you want to live for your family, she said.

Wells offers simple words of encouragement.

“Be calm, stick with your doctor and the one question that is excellent to ask is, ‘What would you do if your mother had what I have?’ They will answer you truthfully,” she said. “That is a life lesson right there.”

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Name: Anne Wells

Age: 98

Residence: Brownstown

Occupation: Part-time property manager

Type of cancer: Breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma in situ, a noninvasive cancer where abnormal cells have been found in the lining of the breast milk duct)

Treatments: Oral chemotherapy

Family: Husband, Robert (deceased); sons, Carl and Tom; daughters, Peggy Wells and Jill Byers

Words of encouragement: “Be calm, stick with your doctor and the one question that is excellent to ask is, ‘What would you do if your mother had what I have?’ They will answer you truthfully.”