During the 10 days that Clarksville professor Minoa Uffelman spent in quarantine following her COVID-19 diagnosis in early January, her breast cancer radiation treatment was delayed and she missed saying goodbye to a family member.
Life went on while she was isolated. Her financial commitments continued uninterrupted, and she was fortunate to have a steady paycheck and secure job.
“Quarantine can be difficult financially,” Uffelman said. “It costs a lot of money to stock up on groceries. I was able to switch to the home office. Many people did not have this opportunity. They went public or lost their jobs. not suffer.
A journey through breast cancer
Uffelman was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 1, 2021.
“I knew I had breast cancer, but I didn’t know the extent,” Uffelman said. “I found that it was recognized early. It was small and stage 1 cancer.”
Nineteen days later, Uffelman saw a specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and had to make a decision: undergo a mastectomy or a lumpectomy.
A mastectomy is the removal of the entire breast, while a lumpectomy is the removal of part of the breast.
She opted for the lumpectomy and underwent surgery on November 18.
On January 3, two days before she was due to begin radiation and the final leg of her cancer journey, she contracted COVID-19, resulting in a two-week treatment delay.
Despite the setback, she was fine. She began radiation on January 17 and completed it on February 11 by ringing the bell signifying a patient is cancer-free.
But Uffelman doesn’t consider himself happy in the traditional sense. She was proactive and had her annual mammogram at Premier Medical. If she hadn’t, the cancer might have progressed to a later stage.
“People tell me I’m lucky that I caught it early, but I’m not lucky that I caught it early … People have to go for mammograms,” Uffelman said.
The heavy toll of COVID-19
In addition to delaying her cancer treatment, COVID-19 prevented Uffelman from attending her aunt’s funeral in person. She was able to attend virtually, but not being able to pay her respects physically is just one of the many things she feels COVID-19 has taken away from her.
“When bad things happen but you’re close to your family, that makes it better,” she said.
Not only was Uffelman denied this family time, but she was forced to deal with cancer during an already turbulent time. She said she never expected to get COVID-19.
“We have done everything the CDC has asked for over the past two years. I was only in small groups of vaccinated people. I woke up with a sore throat and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s just a cold,’ because you can still catch a cold even though the virus is going around,” Uffelman explained. She believes her illness was less severe thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine.
While the vaccine has never promised immunity from the virus, doctors say it makes it easier to manage symptoms.
Uffelman was able to manage her symptoms with over-the-counter medications, she said.
“I don’t see this as a vaccine failure. I’m just glad my illness wasn’t worse,” Uffelman said.
Today, Uffelman is again teaching Southern history and women’s studies at Austin Peay State University. She has been teaching at the university since 2006.
Uffelman always knew she would go public with her cancer diagnosis, but many breast cancer patients choose to keep it a secret.
“It’s more common than people think,” she said.
Uffelman didn’t want to tell anyone until she had a treatment plan. First she told her closest family, then her smaller circle of colleagues. The circle of those in the know grew when she started sending single messages with the messages.
“It’s hard to know who to say and how much to say,” she said.
Uffelman is scheduled to receive a follow-up mammogram in June.
A native of Houston County, Uffelman received her master’s degree from Austin Peay State University. Thanks to her husband’s service in the Air Force, she has lived in Germany, California and England. Joel Evans left the service to become a private pilot and the couple moved back to Clarksville.
Reach Kyle Watts at firstname.lastname@example.org.