Disclosure :: our Breast Cancer Awareness series is sponsored by Baton Rouge General.
I never liked the color pink, but it is now my color. My breast cancer journey began with a routine mammogram. On my 46th birthday, I was told I needed additional mammograms. I wasn’t worried at all since I’ve done this before for calcification spots. Even though my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer just 11 months earlier, it never occurred to me I could get cancer too. After additional mammograms, irregular shaped calcification spots were discovered in my left breast. Two weeks later, two stereotactical needle biopsies were performed.
The results came back positive in both spots for cancer. I wasn’t expecting to hear the words “unfortunately, the tests came back positive – Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) in both places – Stage 0 – but I recommend a mastectomy.” I had a hard time getting past hearing Stage 0 (earliest stage) to telling me I needed a mastectomy! After pathology reports came back, I ended up having Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in Situ with no spreading to my lymph nodes.
It was hard having to tell my family this unexpected news. My husband told our boys who were 16 and 19 at the time. They were supportive and never expressed any fear or anxiousness. In part because my husband and I never showed any fear or anxiousness. Oh, we felt it – we just didn’t show it. We had agreed to stay positive throughout the whole process.
My treatment plan was a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and six weeks of radiation to follow. After surgery, friends brought many meals and my mom stayed for a couple of weeks. The boys helped me out with the grocery shopping. My husband made sure I rested. Last October, he even arranged for me to take part in the Dallas Cowboys’ Kick Off to Breast Cancer Awareness show on the field at halftime! What an experience.
Seven weeks after my mastectomies, I had to have one of my tissue expanders removed unexpectedly due to infection. My doctor suggested I go ahead with radiation and then see about putting a new one in after. That didn’t work out and I would live the next thirteen months with a prosthesis.
I was to start radiation when a cyst was discovered on an ovary. The doctor was worried it could be cancerous being that my ovarian cancer bloodwork numbers came back very high and I had just had cancer. As soon as radiation was completed, I underwent a full hysterectomy – my third surgery in just over five months. Precancerous cells were found along with severe endometriosis.
I only needed radiation. However, I was not prepared for the damage radiation caused. I lost 95% of my skin in the radiated area and it killed my underarm hair and sweat glands. Three months after radiation, I developed chronic and unrelenting itching in the radiated area. After three biopsies, a nerve study, multiple allergy tests, multiple steroid prescriptions and multiple cortisone injections – my doctors still couldn’t figure out what was causing my itching. Over a year later, we finally discovered a combination of two prescriptions that control my itching. This is not a lifelong solution as it suppresses my immune system. I have other permanent side effects I have learned to live with from the radiation.
Thirteen months after having my expander removed, I was ready to complete my reconstruction. I chose the Latissimus Dorsi Flap procedure where muscle and tissue are removed from your back and brought around to the breast area. Three months later, I exchanged my tissue expanders for permanent implants. I ended up having one additional exchange surgery. Six surgeries and six weeks of radiation in 26 months while still working is a lot for a body to go through. I can sometimes still feel effects from all of it.
It is hard to see the process while going through it, but God knows the process and He knows the outcome. You have to have faith and trust God’s plan. God is good, even in the middle of cancer. I believe faith and staying positive is a huge step in the recovery process (humor helps too).
Cancer is a lifelong issue. I have to take a cancer pill for five years, complete bloodwork every few months to see if the cancer has returned and have a chest x-ray once a year. I can’t have any trauma, needle sticks or blood pressure taken on my left arm for fear of getting lymphedema.
My survival rate is 95%, which means I will always live with a 5% chance the cancer could return. I will not let cancer dictate my life. I will not spend my time worried that it will return. I will live.About Dana
Dana and her husband of 29 years live in Baton Rouge. Originally from Pineville, Louisiana, she moved to Baton Rouge in 1989 when Ricky started LSU Law School. They have stayed in the area ever since. They have two sports loving college age boys – Weston (21) attends LSU and Wade (18) attends Louisiana College where he is on the football team. They are trying to adjust to the empty nest lifestyle. Even though Dana works full time, she still likes to be crafty. She loves to take pictures and preserve the memories through scrapbooks (she has many). Her motto is “you can never have enough pictures.” She can also be found at her embroidery machine, finding new uses for vinyl with her Cricut or watching her favorite soap opera.