Breast cancer survivor shares her struggle to encourage other women
KMTR-TV Morning News anchor
In my line of work, I get the opportunity to meet some amazing people.
A woman by the name of Teresa is one of them. But call her T., that’s what she prefers. T. is a wife and mother. She is also a breast cancer survivor.
Last fall, she took part in the very first Komen Race for the Cure in Eugene. It was her “victory walk”. That’s what T. told me when we sat down together earlier this month for an interview.
Let’s be honest here. It couldn’t have been easy for T. to share her story. Breast cancer is a life changing diagnosis, unchartered waters most survivors never expected to navigate, not to mention a very personal struggle. Yet, here she is, sitting across from me and a TV camera, willing to talk about everything—how she discovered a lump during a regular self-breast exam. She talked about how an MRI found a second lump and how she ultimately chose to undergo a mastectomy. Finally, T. explained to me how she was eventually able to, in her words “get herself back” with the help of a man name Dr. Lee Daniel.
T. was 39-years-old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. She hadn’t yet reached that pivotal age of 40, when a regular mammogram would be recommended. “I didn’t know anything about breast cancer,” T. explained. “The only experience I had with cancer was my uncles, who were all elderly and had gone into the hospital, got diagnosed with cancer and then they died. So when I was diagnosed with cancer, I was terrified.”
Immediately after diagnosis, T. was asked to make all kinds of choices about her medical care. How did she want to fight this disease? Should she choose a lumpectomy and save her breast or choose a more aggressive approach: give up her breast and reduce the chances the cancer would return? They were all decisions T. wasn’t entirely sure she was qualified to make. But her life was at stake, and she was in the driver’s seat.
To tell you what happened next for T., I have to take you back seven years to 2002. After breastfeeding her daughter for 15 months, she was very much aware her body was not what it had been. “I realized she had completely altered my shape.” T. laughs lightly as she recalls the memories that first brought her to Dr. Daniel. He is a board-certified plastic surgeon in Eugene who T. contacted in hopes of getting a little bit of her “pre-mommy” figure back. Dr. Daniel performed a breast augmentation on T. What she didn’t know then, is that the two were establishing a relationship that she would call on again in her fight against cancer.
After her mastectomy, T. underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments. “I thought I was prepared for losing my hair. But I wasn’t. That was difficult to get through,” she admits. Finally, with the cancer out of her system, it was time to move ahead.
T. returned to Dr. Daniel to have her breast reconstructed. “There was a span of seven years that we didn’t really correspond,” Dr. Daniel explains. “And to know that she could remember how well that process was the first time through, and then feel comfortable about getting me involved again, that’s what really does it for me.” Dr. Daniel has helped a number of women like T. get their shape back after breast cancer surgery. And it’s much more than a job for him and his staff. Dr. Daniel has a special place in his heart for this cause. He was right there in the crowd last October for Eugene’s inaugural Race for the Cure and he will be there again this year.
And so will T. Because she’s a survivor. She never expected cancer to come into her life, but she acknowledges it is part of who she is, and it has reminded T. just how strong she really is inside. And when it comes down to it, that is why she was willing to share her experience with me. Because maybe, just maybe, a woman out there, somewhere, might be comforted or encouraged by her story. Whoever she is, T. wants her to know that there is a light at the end of the struggle. That she too will survive.