Breast Cancer: Unpredictable? Yes. Unbeatable? No.
Donna Hayes was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007. She was 39 years old and had a 10-month-old son, Bryson, at home.
“I was doing regular breast self-exam,” Donna said, “and felt a lump in my left breast.” Donna called her family physician, who got her in for a diagnostic mammogram that day. An ultrasound and breast biopsy followed, one after the other, all on the same day.
“Doretha (Pridemore, KDMC breast health center supervisor) was there. She was such a comfort. This was all new to me and I was so scared. Everyone was so special and sweet to me that day.”
It was Thursday, April 26. She went home and spent the weekend thinking about the testing and what might come of it. On Tuesday, her family doctor called with the diagnosis: Stage II ductal carcinoma in situ. “I was at work and had been anticipating the call,” Hayes said, “As it came in, my co-workers gathered around me and we prayed it up.”
She met with general surgeon Eric Smith, D.O., on May 21. The prescription was chemotherapy, lumpectomy and radiation therapy. “Of course, I lost all my hair and became deathly ill,” Hayes remembered. In August, she started radiation treatments – 33 in all – with Tri-State Hematology & Oncology.
After radiation, Hayes received great news – her margins were clear and all she needed to do was follow up regularly with oncologist David Goebel, M.D. For the first year afterward, she had a diagnostic mammogram every six months. She also took tamoxifen, a hormone-blocking drug used to treat and prevent some types of breast cancer.
Hayes went back to work, wig in place. Five years passed, her hair grew back, and Hayes took a new job, with King’s Daughters Home Medical Equipment. Breast cancer was in her past.
But it wasn’t.
In early 2014, Hayes returned to King’s Daughters’ imaging center for her annual diagnostic mammogram. This time, testing showed a new tumor, the size of a BB, in her right breast.
“I thought, ‘Oh Gosh, here we go.’ I knew it was cancer. I knew. Physically, I started feeling the same kind of way that I felt before. I was so tired.” As before, Hayes had a breast ultrasound and a biopsy and “of course it came back the same kind of cancer. This time, it was Stage I.”
Hayes and her husband, Rodney, met with general surgeon Kevin Miller, M.D. “I met him, liked him and said, ‘Let’s do this.’” Hayes underwent a lumpectomy of her right breast in March. “Because of where it was located, he had to take more lymph nodes than before but again the margins came back clear.”
This time, Hayes was able to avoid chemotherapy. But she still had to take 33 courses of radiation treatment.
With a family history of cancer – her mother (bladder), maternal grandmother (stomach), maternal aunts (breast), maternal uncle (lung), maternal grandfather (brain), father (basal cell carcinoma) and paternal grandmother all experienced cancer – Hayes was a good candidate for genetic testing to determine if her cancers were caused by an abnormal gene (such as BRCA).
“But everything came back negative,” Hayes noted.
Throughout her ordeal, Hayes felt the love and support of all those around her. “My little boy was just 10 months old and couldn’t talk, but I could see it in his eyes. He was telling me, ‘fight, Mommy!’”
Hayes credits her husband, son, family and, most of all, God, for getting her through her breast cancer ordeal. “I couldn’t have made it through any of those battles without Him by my side,” Hayes said.
There’s no way to know why Hayes experienced breast cancer not once, but twice. But her cheerful disposition and friendly demeanor make it difficult to ignore her warnings.
“Please do your BSE. Please get your mammo,” she said. “Both times, they saved my life. If I had not done mine, who knows where I would be today.”
And for those currently battling breast cancer, Hayes offers words of hope. A special friend gave her T-shirt during her first battle that proclaims “Fight Like a Girl.”
“I love that shirt and still wear it today. It’s an encouragement to me and others. To me, it says, ‘Hey, I can do this. Me and God, we’ve got it.’”
From the Heart of a Survivor
Lynnsey Holland was only 33 years old when she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in April 2013. “I wasn’t doing monthly breast self-exams, and I was below the age when annual mammograms are recommended,” she said. “If I had been doing self-exams, I might have found it sooner, before it had spread to five of my lymph nodes.”
Lynnsey, a nurse at King’s Daughters since 2004, considers the way she found the cancer a miracle. “I’d had two back-to-back miscarriages. We already had two healthy children; I just felt something had to be wrong with my body for this to be happening,” she said. “I was in the shower, crying, praying for God to show me what was wrong. That’s when I noticed my left breast was hurting as the water hit it and felt the lump.”
In May 2013, Lynnsey began 12 weeks of chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy of her left breast. After recovering from the surgery, she endured eight more weeks of chemo and 33 radiation treatments.
The young nurse shared her story publically at the Boyd County National Survivor’s Day Celebration last spring. She hopes to drive home the fact that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate because of age, and monthly self-exams are crucial. “Do those exams, and if you don’t know how, have your doctor show you,” she said. “I also advise women to listen to their bodies when they think something is wrong,” she said.
Lynnsey wants women to understand that you can get breast cancer even if you have no family history. At the time of her diagnosis, she had no immediate relatives who had been diagnosed. She even tested negative for the BRCA gene mutation that is associated with a genetic predisposition and higher risk.
“I no longer take my life for granted,” Lynnsey said. “My faith has grown tremendously, but I cannot lie and say I don’t worry about it coming back and what that would mean for my family.
“I also wonder if my daughter might have to face this some day. I can’t stress this enough — all women must do their breast self-exams. Not doing mine could have cost me my life!”
“I too carry your burden”
Last fall Flatwoods resident Margie McDavid was at home on her lunch break when she received a call requesting her to come to her gynecologist’s office at King’s Daughters. On her way, she says knew what she was about to hear.
“My fears were confirmed,” the 56-year-old says. “I asked Dr. Richard Ford, ‘It’s cancer, isn’t it?’ He said yes and I fell to pieces.”
After 15 years of yearly mammograms, Margie, then 55, was diagnosed with a very early stage of breast cancer. With no history of breast cancer in her family, she credits her early diagnosis to her Oct. 6 mammogram.
“A spot was found on my right breast and I really didn’t think immediately it was cancer,” she admits. “I thought, ‘here we go again.’ After all, I had been through this before.”
Margie, a mother, a grandmother and bookkeeper at Russell High School, says at age 40 her first mammogram revealed a spot on her left breast. “After hearing the news, I buried myself,” she says. “I immediately thought, ‘cancer has me.’”
After an ultrasound and biopsy confirmed the spot was benign, she says she was thankful to have more time with her family.
“That’s what went through my mind last year when they found another spot,” she says. “I was just dreading the whole process of a biopsy — not even thinking this time it could be cancer.”
The day of the diagnosis, Dr. Ford assured Margie her cancer was small, which made her feel better. “I just think every day, ‘what if I had skipped my mammogram?’ It could have been a lot worse,” Margie says.
“I didn’t let myself cry until I saw my mother,” she says. “She has been my biggest support.”
Margie had surgery in November 2014. “I was so scared,” she says holding back tears. “What will they find? Everything just goes through your mind. I was just praying it was not in the lymph nodes.”
Margie would not need chemo, only radiation. While healing, oncologist Chad Tarabolous, M.D., and radiation oncologist Terry Justice, M.D., recommended 32 radiation treatments.
“You’re just going through so many emotions,” she says. “You’re so tired, but by the grace of God — you get through it.”
In February, Margie along with her son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren were able to make a trip to Disney World. “That meant the world to me,” Margie says. “I was tired, but I did it.”
She credits those at King’s Daughters and the Breast Care Center for helping her with their compassionate care and encouragement. “Without them, I would have felt alone in this process,” she says.
Margie stresses the importance of a yearly mammogram. “If I had waited to have a mammogram, it could have meant the difference between chemo, a mastectomy or my life.”
“Women are getting diagnosed younger and younger,” she says. “I have granddaughters. How will this affect them?”
“I am much more conscious of these women now that I am one,” she says. “I just want to wrap my arms around them and let them know, ‘I too carry your burden.’”
Margie had another mammogram in August and received good news. “I will continue to have my screenings and checkups,” she says. “It saved my life."