VIProfile: Marimae White

2017 Saint Thomas Rutherford Foundation Wine Around the Square Honoree

Marimae Miller White says it all started when she mentioned a little lump in her right breast to her physician, Dr. Elizabeth LaRoche, at her annual checkup.

“I already had fibrocystic disease so I was used to lumps,” Marimae said. “But I decided to mention it anyway.”

Because she always had annual mammograms, neither Marimae or Dr. LaRoche were alarmed, but both agreed it definitely needed to be checked out. So, this time, Marimae received a 3D mammogram, also called digital breast tomosynthesis. This remarkable new screening and diagnostic breast imaging tool improves the early detection of breast cancer. “I can’t say enough about all of my Saint Thomas Rutherford physicians,” the 2017 Power of Pink honoree says. “Dr. Marynelle Klumpe and all of the people at Premier Radiology were amazing, using not only the latest technology, but showing me such compassion in how they cared about me. The process was scary, but it was also heart-warming. It made me realize just how many wonderful people and professionals there are in this town to lean on when you need them.”

When the results came in, both Marimae and Dr. LaRoche were surprised. The breast with the new lump was fine. But there was a worrisome shadow in her left breast. Even though more tests were called for, Marimae still wasn’t really that concerned.

“I wasn’t sitting and waiting for the phone to ring. I honestly thought I was fine,” she remembers. But a little nagging worry was starting to occur underneath her certainly.

“You do start to get nervous when you go for one test, and they say, hmmm, we just don’t know, let’s do another test in a few days. And then the nurse navigator would call me to explain it all, which was great. But I kept on having more tests.”

And then one morning the phone rang with the news. It was breast cancer, specifically invasive ductal carcinoma in situ.

“That phone call took my breath away,” Marimae says. “I was surprised and really shocked.”

And then she got going. Marimae began to explore her options with the help of radiologist Dr. Marynelle Klumpe, with MidState Radiology, her surgeon, Dr. Mark Akins with Murfreesboro Surgical Specialists, her oncologist, Dr. John Zubkus with Tennessee Oncology, and her plastic surgeon, Dr. Nick Tarola with Tarola Plastic Surgery.

Marimae took it all in stride, with the help of her husband, attorney George White, and their daughters Mary Elam Polk and Elisabeth Vaughn, both of whom live in Murfreesboro with their families.

“I had such great support from everybody,” she said. “Nobody pushed me to make a certain decision. They helped me look at the options and they let me decide … I’m the kind of person who says ‘it is what it is. We just have to figure out what to do.’”

After much discussion, talking with friends and others who had been through the same decision-making process and more research, White opted for a bilateral total mastectomy.

“One of my good friends said this: ‘Marimae, it’s just tough. It’s just really hard.’ Even though I knew it would be hard, I also knew that taking this step meant I wouldn’t have to go through the chemotherapy and radiation, and the breast cancer would be stopped. That was important to my family and me,” she said.

Marimae also opted for breast reconstruction. All in all, in 2015 she had four different surgeries to deal with her breast cancer. It was a long, hard year.

“It really took it out of me,” she said. “I felt like I was never going to be myself again during that long year.”

But one thought kept her going.

“At all of my appointments, I’d sit in the waiting room with other women who were going through much worse than I was,” she remembered. “One woman I talked with for a long time was 45 years old and had multiple things going on in addition to her breast cancer, and her children were younger.”

Marimae says as bad as things can be, having support — from family, friends, doctors, St. Thomas Rutherford Hospital — makes such a difference.

“I know that some people don’t have the kind of support that I was fortunate to have from our community, from the great medical professionals who are here,” she said. “That’s what you get in the end - from going through all of this - the realization that so many people have it so much worse than you do. The blessings in our community are all around us.”

Today, some 18 months since that hard year was over, Marimae is doing great and enjoying her life. She is involved daily with her four grandchildren: Jackson, 13; Bradley, 9; Mary Bryant, 3; and Leila, 1.

White also recommends that women with breast cancer contact and participate in the ABC (After Breast Cancer) program directed by Melanie Cavender at mcavender@ymcamidtn.org. With help from Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital and AdamsPlace, the program, formerly housed at the YMCA in Murfreesboro, still continues.

“The ABC program is wonderful,” White said. Melanie helped Marimae focus on getting her health back, giving her exercises, nutrition information and support. The program is free of charge.

Looking back on it all, she says her takeaways are these: “I hope all women will get their regular mammograms and bring unusual things to their doctor’s attention. Get healthy and be as healthy as you can be. Get all of your checkups. Focus on what’s important, and that’s relationships, family and friends, faith, and the blessings we have.”

Marimae adds this: “So many trivial things that we think are important just really aren’t important at all. When this happens, things get real simple and real clear. I’m just very thankful.”