A 60 year breast cancer survivor tells her story

Survivor Evelyn Vaden was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1950. (JAE S. LEE / THE TENNESSEAN)

I am blogging from sunny San Diego this week and I came across an article online in the Tennesean newspaper which I  just had to share with you. It tells the story of Evelyn Vaden, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1950. It sheds interesting light on how the disease was treated and attitudes to cancer sixty years ago.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Vaden said she experienced some fluid leaking from her breast and knew something was wrong. Not having heard much about breast cancer, she went to the doctor. The doctor performed a hand examination and detected a lump. He then followed up with an X-ray. No biopsy was done. A few days later she had her breast and the lymph nodes under her arm removed. She returned home and then was scheduled for one month of radiation treatment. The doctor told her to simply pray and hope for the best.

Family’s Reaction

Vaden’s breast cancer journey hit the young family hard. The children tiptoed around the house for weeks, giving their mother peace and rest.

I do remember. I must have been 1 and a half or so,” daughter Sara Davis said. “She was in the living room. She was on the couch and she must have just gotten home or something, and we were told to just be real quiet because she needs her rest. We were told to be as good as we could and don’t fight. Don’t cause problems and just be real quiet.

Meanwhile, Vaden’s husband, Leonard, took care of his wife, but would often cry alone. One time when the World War II veteran thought he was having a moment to himself, his daughter was looking on.

He was just sitting on the couch one day. I do remember my father saying how worried he was; saying, here he was having four children and the love of his life was going to be gone. He didn’t know how he was going to face the future without his wife. He just didn’t know how he was going to face the future, Davis said, crying as she recalled the story.


But Vaden survived and recently celebrated her 90th birthday, still just as active as she was decades ago. She moves around with much energy and with no assistance. She spends her week preserving and canning vegetables, preparing them for the big Sunday dinner she cooks every week. Her kitchen table seats close to 12 people, and the family has just about outgrown the number of seats.

Vaden has a peace and calm about her that comes with age and experience. When she talks about her birthday, which she spent with dozens of family and friends, she speaks about it with a quiet joy.  She credits good eating and a strong relationship with God as the reasons she overcame cancer and has lived a long life.”Nutrition and eat well and eat the things that are good for you and trust in the Lord,” Vaden said. “That’s all I know. Plus, I think that I survived because a lot of good people prayed for me.”