Donna is one of my absolute breasties! She & I are part of a small private message group & have been chatting daily for quite a while now. We’ve all bonded in such a special way & Donna brings so much positivity to the group. Her humor & joy for life are truly infectious. I’m honored to have gotten to know her over the last year & to call her my friend. I’m excited to share her story, because I know you will all lover her just as much as I do!
Prior to Donna’s own diagnosis, she & her family were not unfamiliar with cancer & the road that follows diagnosis. Both Donna’s sister & half-sister are breast cancer survivors themselves. This however, never caused concern that Donna would ever get cancer herself. Her sister is 54 years old, was a smoker for years, didn’t keep up with regular doctor visits & her life had been hard. Donna, on the other hand made it a priority to keep up with routine checkups, eat right, stay active, she took her vitamins every day… She maintained a healthy lifestyle & never even considered the thought of breast cancer.
It was in June 2016 when Donna was surprised to receive a call back following her annual mammogram. There were findings that weren’t present in her previous scan & they asked her to follow up with an additional mammogram & ultrasound. Through the ultrasound, they identified two masses & decided to biopsy to determine if it was anything to worry about. Donna was worried. The possibility of breast cancer suddenly became very real.
Her biopsy had fallen on a Thursday & if you’ve gone through this waiting game yourself, you now know the weekend waiting can be especially tortuous. She finally received the call while at home, around noon on Monday. Her doctor spoke with her for a bit & then dropped the bombshell, “It’s cancer.” he said. She went completely numb & dropped the phone. Her husband was there & picked it up off the floor. He spoke with the surgeon & learned what their next steps would be.
Donna was diagnosed with Stage 2B Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. In the beginning, she felt as if everything was in slow motion but moving so quickly all at the same time. It was overwhelming, but she soon realized she needed to stop & just catch her breath. Trust that God has greatness planned for her. He had never failed her so far, so she trusted him with this crazy cancer & chose not to worry.
Donna’s first step in her treatment began with a lumpectomy & reconstruction in July 2016 where they also removed 24 lymph nodes. For reconstruction, they opted to remove a pound of fat from her stomach which was used to rebuild her right breast.
Following surgery, she began chemotherapy from September through November. She admits, that when it began she was really scared. She had read so many crazy stories online about the potential side effects, that it gave her nightmares. But to her surprise she experienced very minimal physical side effects, nothing like she’d heard of other’s experiences.
Chemo did however make her very emotional & she experienced hot flashes along with night sweats. Breast cancer treatment causes drastic changes in our hormone levels & can cause these types of side effects. In some cases, treatment can even bring on early menopause. Donna’s oncologist prescribed a drug called Effexor, which has worked well in combating those side effects for her.
Losing her hair & gaining weight from treatment tested Donna’s confidence at first. She felt sad about the way she looked & felt, but as she says, she soon found her big girl panties & put them on! She began to embrace the humor in her situation & started to have fun with her baldness!
After chemo, she began radiation in February 2016 & happily completed in April. Like chemo she took it on like a boss & grew to enjoy getting to know the team at her cancer center. You tend to really get to know your radiation crew especially, seeing them every day for nearly three months.
During her treatment however, Donna’s reconstructed breast essentially burst causing the harvested fat to spill out! She had many surgeries following in attempt to fix the problem which has been a frustrating process. Even now, the scar tissue still hurts, but she remains hopeful that it will get better over time as she continues to heal.
Donna is currently continuing her treatment with hormone therapy, taking tamoxifen. She’s just busy embracing life! She says she’s always valued life, she’s always laughed & allowed herself to be silly, but cancer has taught her to be brave. Not to fear the storm, but to dance in the rain. She finds herself now wanting to be more spontaneous, smiling more, living each day with even more love, laughter & forgiveness.
She feels as though God has lead her down this path, to help others & encourage them through their journeys. Donna was recently asked to take part in a video for her cancer center sharing her story with other cancer patients to give hope. Her hope is that seeing an actual cancer patient on the video will resonate with those about to take on treatment, easing their hearts & minds. She wants them to know that it might not be as horrible as they might have read it could be. Everyone’s experience is different, everyone reacts to treatment differently. Her tagline in the video is one of my favorites & something I think we all need to keep in mind as we take on these battles, “I had cancer, cancer never had me”.
Right now, life is good for Donna! She & her husband just celebrated 30 years of marriage this past March & welcomed their first granddaughter in July. Her hair is growing back steadily & even with natural highlights thanks to chemo! She’s recently donated her wigs & scarves to her cancer center to be shared with other patients. She says, she feels more blessed than she deserves & is grateful for the second chance at life & thankful for all the wonderful people God has brought into her life through her journey over the last year.
See more of Donna’s journey on Instagram