Valdosta Daily Times

October 15, 2012

Strickland Mill advocate shares breast cancer story

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Nina King, 77, is known throughout the Valdosta community as an active member of several organizations—Park Avenue United Methodist Church and its Sunday School class, the United Methodist Women, the Literary Guild and the Readers Book Club, the Save the Mill committee for the preservation of the Remerton Mill and Relay for Life.

King is also a three-time cancer survivor. She was first diagnosed at the age of 30, then had breast cancer in her mid-50s and colon cancer in her late 60s, she said, but she continues to donate her efforts to help the American Cancer Society find a cure, and to deliver a message urging women to get their checkups.

When she was first diagnosed around 1965, her physician “painted the blackest picture of death,” King said.

“He said I needed to have the surgery in Valdosta so that my two

little girls could go see me every day, and that I would need my family as I had never needed them,” King said.

King elected to keep her parents in the dark about her disease, so when the doctor came out of surgery to tell her husband in the hospital that they had been able to remove all the cancer, her mother “almost passed out,” and her father also took it hard, she said.

“I was truly blessed as I did not have to undergo any further treatments,” King said. After getting out of the hospital, she want back to work in a week.

“I was working at South Georgia Pecan, and it was the busy season, so I knew I needed to work.”

Around 1989, King was diagnosed with breast cancer. She elected to undergo a lumpectomy rather than a full mastectomy, and had 16 lymph nodes removed as well. Following surgery, King went through 37 radiation treatments.

“Again, God blessed me in that I got along so well,” King said. “Each morning I would go get my radiation treatment and then go to work. My sister drove me to my first treatment, and after that, I drove myself.”

At the time, she was employed as a secretary and receptionist at the old Dowling Bag Company, where she worked for 30 years.

In December 1997, King suffered a broken shoulder. During the doctor’s visit, she also received her third diagnosis of cancer, this time in her colon.

“My surgeon suggested that I go to Emory in Atlanta for my surgery,” King said. “The medicine did not agree with me; it changed my personality and made me very mean and hateful. My husband and daughter said they were about ready to leave me at Emory!”

King remembers that during her recovery, her doctor would come in with interns during rounds every night to check on her, take her temperature and pulse and check the incision on her abdomen.

“With all the staples, it looked like a zipper from the navel down!” King said.

After two weeks in the hospital, she went with her husband to her daughter’s house 10 minutes away from the hospital, where she stayed for another two weeks. Altogether, she remained out of work for three months.

“My husband took very good care of me,” King said. “I just had to rest and heal. Again, I was wonderfully blessed and did not require any kind of treatment as they had removed all the cancer.”

Cancer runs in King’s family. When she had another brush with death August 2009, a major heart attack, King’s sister, five years her junior, was also hospitalized with cancer.

Doctors placed five coronary stents in King’s heart, and she recovered in time to visit her sister in hospice and bring her a card, balloon and flowers before she passed away. Even though she was still ill, King went to her sister’s funeral.

King also lost two brothers to cancer; the losses were difficult for King’s elderly parents.

“We have had so many in my family with cancer: my sister-in-law and her daughter, my niece, two cousins, an aunt,” King said. “She was the first person I ever saw with cancer when I was about six or seven years old.”

The heavy impact of the disease has prompted King to join efforts with the ACS and Relay for Life. As part of the Save the Mill committee, she is “hoping for a miracle” to save the Strickland Mill in Remerton and helps organize the Remerton Reunion, which will be held Oct. 20.

“For all of us who grew up there, with parents or grandparents and some of us working in the mill, this reunion is our homecoming,” King said. “We come home for this gather of old friends to catch up on what has been happening with our families. Some of us only see each other once a year: at the reunion.”

This year’s reunion will be a sad occasion, King said, because it will be the last time reunion participants will be able to see Strickland Mill before it is demolished.

“When the Remerton City Council voted on this, they did not give us much time to try to do anything about the mill even though we had some serious inquiries,” King said. “We had responses from 13 developers in a short time. If the owners would have a change of heart and donate the original mill to the City, that would give us avenues to follow to get the mill restored.”

For King, a woman who has survived so many serious hospital visits with the support of her family and the grace of God, time will tell whether one more miracle might be possible.