LEWISTON — After mammograms and tests in January, Rita Dube was stunned to hear the word “cancer” over the phone.
“For two hours I was numb,” she said. “I sat in my chair looking out at the ocean. We just bought this place. We just moved to Bailey Island.”
Dube, 75, is a Lewiston native and local legend. Her parents and grandparents lived here. Dube was one of the founders of Lewiston’s Franco Center.
After getting the call telling her she had cancer, she went through hours of self-pity. “All of a sudden I said, ‘I’m not going there. I’m going to stay positive, beat this.’ I started praying.” Her attitude shifted from sadness to determination.
Growing up, faith was instilled in her by her mother, she said. “It never left me through thick and thin. I’m a very serious Catholic. I pray often.”
Faith has helped her get through some of the treatments needed to beat stage 3 breast cancer, Dube said. But more are ahead.
Breast cancer runs in her family. Her sister died from it at age 50. Dube has always had annual mammograms. Eighteen months ago, results looked suspicious. She was told to repeat in six months.
When she did, the mammogram found “stage zero” cancer, “which means it’s there but not invasive,” Dube said. However, an MRI detected far worse news: a large, stage 3 mass in back of her breast.
In March, she underwent surgery at Dana-Farber Institute in Boston, removing tumors and 15 lymph nodes under her arm, of which seven were cancerous.
“I’m a mess,” she said with a smile.
A month after surgery, she started radiation and chemotherapy, but complications arose. “I had five chemo treatments,” she said. “The last two just about killed me. I couldn’t do anymore.”
She suffered blood clots in her legs, was anemic and needed blood transfusions. Her lungs were so weak she couldn’t breathe. “I couldn’t stand up or walk. I was in a wheelchair,” she said.
During the summer, Dube was taken off chemo and treated with steroids. “They put me on a chemo pill to hold the cancer at bay so it wouldn’t spread,” she said.
Since then she has regained some strength. She no longer needs a wheelchair.
“My lungs are 85 percent better,” she said. “I can walk and function. But I still don’t have the strength I had before.”
She’s lucky, she said, to have a husband like her Paul. “He’s my hero,” she said. Their four adult children and 10 grandchildren, who live nearby, come often.
“Paul and the children have been doing all the cooking and cleaning,” she said. “They’re there for me. I am so blessed.”
Soon she’ll resume chemotherapy. She’s anxious about it but knows she must do it to become cancer-free.
She’ll lean on God, and St. Anne, the mother of Mary, one of her favorite saints. As a child, her father died young from tuberculosis, leaving her mother to raise five children alone. St. Anne provided the “strength that helped my mother,” Dube said.
Now St. Anne is helping her, she said.
Also, many people are praying for her. “That’s what is giving me hope to get through this,” Dube said through tears.
For anyone else undergoing a hardship, Dube advises them “to keep God in your heart all the time. Pray. There are times you feel discouraged, but keep the faith and be strong. I’m very determined I’m going to beat this. I know I will.”
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Rita Dube stands in front of a photo that includes her mother and a map that includes a photo of her father at the former St. Mary’s Church in Lewiston. Dube rallied the community into saving the building and turning it into a Franco-American Heritage Center and performing arts venue. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
Members of the board of directors at The Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center, Dr. Donald Christie Jr., left, and Connie Cote, right, speak with Rita Dube at a reception at the Lewiston landmark on Nov. 18. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)