Sunday, November 1, 2015

Medical Monday - Breast Cancer in the Family

Bridget Barrett nee Farley's cause of death
I don't know of anyone in my family that has had breast cancer. At least I didn't. I found the death certificate for my 2nd great grandmother, Bridget Barrett nee Farley, and on it was her cause of death..."exhaustion from cancer of breast."

According to this she was diagnosed in January 1905 and she didn't die for a year and a half. I don't know how they attempted to treat cancer in the early 20th century. I'm not sure that I really want to research that. It's pretty horrific even today when we have chemotherapy and radiation treatment and surgery. 

During that time that she had cancer she actually went to Philadelphia for eye surgery. I wish I knew what was wrong with her eye(s). Not because it's really important, but I wonder if it was really severe...whatever it was. Was it so severe that it needed to be done? Would she have been blinded without it? Or was it minor and had it done believing that she was going to beat the cancer? Was the cancer so advanced that it caused this problem with her eyes? That's why I would like to know. 

The Plain Speaker, 28APR1905, pg5
Of course I sit here comfortably in 2015 and look back at medicine in the early 1900s and cringe, but I'm sure at the time they probably felt about their medicine the same way we feel about ours. What will my descendants think of our medicine in another century? Will they look at our cancer treatments and think they're barbaric and primitive? I hope so, because if they think that at least they'll have something better.

The Plain Speaker, 09MAY1905, pg5
Walter Barrett went to visit his mother in Philadelphia after the surgery. Those things aren't really reported in newspapers today. As a researcher I'm glad that they were reported. If they hadn't been I wouldn't have known about her having this surgery. This courage that I can at least hope some of which has passed on to me and mine.

These sorts of articles make family history more personal. More than just dates and names. They give us stories.

Walter was also the informant on Bridget's death certificate. Patrick, her husband, died two years after her. I don't know why he wasn't the informant. Perhaps he was too grieved. I imagine they all were.

Excerpt from Bridget Barrett's death certificate
I've seen far too many death certificates for my ancestors that have no parental information on them. It can be frustrating...very frustrating. On Bridget's I've got her parents listed as Hugh and Alice Farley nee Fagan. While I have to take it with a grain of salt (this is second-hand information after all), I do see a pattern in the names. 

Bridget and Patrick had six children: Edward, Mary (my ancestor), William, Hugh, Walter, and Alice. According to Patrick's death certificate his parents were Edward and Mary. Bridget's parent were Hugh and Alice. Their children were named after their parents it would seem.

These were all the revelations I got from Bridget's death certificate and those two small clippings. I have no obituary for her yet. Newspapers.com hasn't added the Hazleton papers for 1906. I'm hoping that 1906 isn't one of the years permanently lost. I found out where in Saint Gabriel's cemetery she and Patrick are buried this summer and I was finally able to create FindAGrave memorials for them. I just seems like an obituary would help to close out the story.

I take this time to remember someone that must have been a strong and brave woman and I'm proud to be your granddaughter.

4 comments:

  1. I wonder if her eye surgery was cataracts. Even in the 1960s my grandaunt traveled out of state for cataract surgery where doctors put sandbags around her head to keep her still. I can't let myself think about that very long -- too scary. I also have several old death certificates that did not say cancer specifically, but the description surely sounds like it. I always wonder about the treatment.

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    1. I wouldn't doubt it. It would have had to have been something severe to go in for the surgery. It had to have been scary to have been going through all that!

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  2. As much as people suffer with illness today I can only imagine how much worse it was back then. It sure makes me grateful to live when we have access to so much help.

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    1. I feel the same! I know in the future people will look at our medicine and find it primitive, but it's certainly better than even 100 years ago!

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