Donnas Journey

Donna’s Breast Cancer Journey

My breast cancer journey began on a beautiful summer solstice in 2018. That’s the day I was diagnosed, and one breath later, the day I became a breast cancer survivor. Every breath you take after diagnosis confirms your survival, regardless of what stage the disease is at in your body. You learn all sorts of pearls of wisdom as you go along.

Did you know that there are quite a few different kinds of breast cancer, or that they don’t all show up on imaging like mammograms? I do now!

Turns out I had something called Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, which is sometimes called the ‘sneaky’ breast cancer because you often can’t see it in mammograms, CT scans, or ultrasounds. Mine was entirely invisible to all imaging. Only a biopsy finally confirmed its presence. Instead of presenting itself like a lump or bump inside your breast as we all were taught to check for every month, it grows and spreads like a spiderweb. My imaging was all clear. But I knew the shape, size, and outer appearance of my breast and nipple had changed. Those were all critical clues that I didn’t ignore and helped me be here today.

By the time it was confirmed, the cancer had spread throughout my breast and into my lymph nodes under my arm. Scary! Although we live in the 21st century, cancer treatment can still feel downright medieval in nature due to its extreme methods of poisoning, ripping, & burning to remove it. To save my life, my brilliant medical team developed a comprehensive treatment plan you could characterize as the ‘full meal deal’. I began with 16 chemotherapy treatments which were quite grueling. I had some fun ahead of my complete hair loss when my daughter and I dyed my hair a beautiful fuchsia pink!

I think I missed my eyebrows and eyelashes more than the hair on my head, honestly. Altogether I had four surgeries which included a double mastectomy and axial lymph node removal. I opted to remain completely flat, medically known as ‘aesthetic flat closure’ instead of getting implants. This option is getting more popular with women, and I haven’t regretted my decision for a single moment. After surgery I went through 28 radiation treatments. Those were exhausting and grueling in a completely different way than either chemotherapy or surgery.

After that I was declared NED: No Evidence of Disease (which is as good as it gets at this point). I finally had my life back! All in all, treatment took about a year of my life to complete, but I am hopeful that I will have many more to follow. I am on medication for the next 10 years and am also finishing up a worldwide clinical trial for a drug that is showing promise that helps to prevent reoccurrence in folks like me with my type of cancer. Yay!

Thankfully, I was blessed with an amazing husband who supported and cared for me every step of the way. I also had the care and love of my family, neighbors, friends, and extended church family. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be here without their love. During treatment, it honestly felt like I was being carried on the crest of an enormous wave of care and love. It was AMAZING! And of course I wouldn’t be here without my brilliant medical team: chemotherapy oncologist Dr. Navin Anthony (‘the poisoner’), breast cancer surgeon Dr. Jennifer McAlister (‘the ripper’), and radiation oncologist Dr. Yaseen Zia (‘the burner’)…I love them oodles!

Learn about Pardee’s cancer services and read more stories like this in our Cancer Annual Report.

Donna

Donna Gross

Pardee Cancer Center patient
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