With no family history of cancer of any kind, Brenda Ziolkowski couldn't believe it in Nov. of 2012 when the doctor told her the lump found in her breast was cancer.  
She said, "I'd had two lumps found and biopsied in previous years, and there was no cancer, so I just figured it would be nothing this time, too."
The lump was found early, as a matter of luck, when Ziolkowski had a mammogram in October.  It was labeled Stage I, the best she could hope for in a cancerous growth, and she was sent to UNMC in Omaha for further treatment at this point.  
Ziolkowski chose to have a lumpectomy, or removal of just the tumor and some surrounding tissue, but got a surprise when an MRI was done prior to surgery and another lump was found in her other breast.  Now she would be doing a lumpectomy in both breasts.
During surgery in March of 2013, Ziolkowski underwent experimental radiation treatment that was done while she was cut open, and was supposed to reduce such treatments to just one.  Her oncologist, Dr. Cowan, was well satisfied with her surgery and didn't think Ziolkowski would have to go through chemo, but high estrogen level results from her subsequent visit two weeks later changed that.
Ziolkowski had one dose of chemo in April but at about the same time ended up with a terrible infection that kept her in the hospital for nearly a month, and it was decided that she would not take any more chemo treatments.  Since then she has gone back for a mammogram every 6 months, but has been clear so far.
When asked how she coped and what kind of support she had, Ziolkowski sang the praises of community members, local churches, her family, and God.   "I was lucky to have very supportive churches and local people," she smiled, "I couldn't have done it without God, and all of these people were just swamping him with prayers for me!"
"My five kids came and helped me, too," she said, "they did as much as they could for me, and were very insistent and supportive about my care and treatment.  You just can't imagine the friends, family, cards, food, calls and visits from everyone," she went on, "it's so nice to know that someone is thinking of you at a time like that."
As for future plans, Ziolkowski said she had just recently retired from the hospital and she was taking the time to enjoy life, do whatever she wants to do, and see family and friends more.  She said that the biggest effects on her aside from the physical had been strengthening of her faith and her family, and a new intent to live day by day.  "I enjoy God, my family, and my friends every day," she said, explaining, "you don't have anybody forever; live now."
Ziolkowski's advice to women was to do self-examinations and get regular mammograms.  "I didn't do self-examinations," she admitted, "I was just incredibly lucky that mammogram time rolled around and we caught it early.  Somebody was looking out for me."  She went on to stress, though, that early detection was the key, and women needed to take the time to look out for themselves.  "There's so much they don't know about cancer," she said, "there's no guarantees, but you've got to do your part, and follow the steps to your own health."