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Heather’s Story (Breast Cancer)

Heather's Story (Breast Cancer) LR

In March 2010, my OBGYN office found a small lump on my left breast. She asked me to feel it, watch it, and not to worry because I was too young, with no family history.

After waiting a few months, my husband finally convinced me to call the doctor. He could visibly see my breast concaving. I called my doctor, scheduled a mammogram, and on July 26, 2010 I was diagnosed with Stage II cancer.

I was 34 years old, married for seven years, and had a five year old and two year old. As she told me the news over the phone, I felt numb. I couldn’t register what she was saying. I could not fathom that this was happening to me. I always thought, ”I don’t need to check myself. It will never happen to me.” She made an appointment that day to see a breast surgeon.

Upon speaking with the surgeon, it was explained to us that two of the four quadrants of my left breast were affected. The lower left quadrant had a lump and the upper right quadrant had DCIS. A lumpectomy was not an option, I was going to lose my breast. It was a fairly easy decision to have a double mastectomy. Why take that chance, I did not want to hear I had cancer again; I wanted them both gone.

September 2, 2010 was my nipple sparing, bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. I had chosen the DIEP procedure for my reconstruction which entailed taking tissue from my belly (a boob job and tummy tuck all in one day = my silver lining). That was all good and said but there was a snag.  After taking 11 nodes, 3 tested positive. Reconstruction would have to wait.

When I first found out I had cancer, my biggest fear was losing my hair. I knew if the cancer had spread to the nodes, I would have to have chemo. Once I knew I had no choice, I chose to accept it and embrace it. September 27, 2010 was my first chemo treatment. I had four rounds of AC and four rounds of Taxol.

October 22, 2010 my husband lived the “for better or worse” and shaved my head, along with his. It was a relief to say the least. To my surprise, my mother-in-law also shaved her head that night and kept it shaved until mine grew back.

Chemo for me was relatively uneventful, thank God. I gained plenty of weight to prepare for my reconstruction in 2011. I went 13 months wearing prosthetics and never let them stop me from my normal activities. I can honestly say at the time, I did not miss my breasts.

February – March 2010 I went through 33 radiation treatments. I was back to work by now and made my daily trek during lunch. I could not wait until radiation was done because that meant 6 months later, I could have my reconstruction.

October 6, 2011 was the day I was very excited for, it was my silver lining to all I had gone through. I was in surgery for a total of 19 hours! I woke up with my IV running through the main artery in my neck due to my veins blowing in my right arm. Did I forget to mention I developed lymphedema in my left arm? Fortunately, we caught it early and were able to reverse the effects. I do wear a compression glove at night and a sleeve if I fly but compared to the alternative, I will take it!

I was in love with my new boobs. Although they were faceless for the time being, they were beautiful – scars and all! I felt like it was Christmas every morning. I never missed them when they were gone but I was sure glad they were back. May 6, 2013 I had my last surgery, putting a face on my boobs.

As I heal, I am awed by my plastic surgeon’s ability to create such beauty. After gaining 60+ pounds for the surgery (I wanted the girls to be plentiful) and living with prosthetics for 13 months, I was ready to feel like a woman again.

Through my journey, I have learned you will never know how strong you can be until you are faced with adversity. People commented on how positive and strong I was through everything. To me, there was no other way to be. I have a tremendous support group. I could not have kept such a positive attitude without the help of my husband, parents, family, and friends.

Oh, remember me telling you about the obgyn that said I was too young? Because of me, they now flag all patient files where abnormalities were found and follow-up with the patient to schedule further testing if need be. If this saves just one life, it was well worth fighting like a girl!

Submitted 6-14-13

The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.

This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.

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  1. Jennifer Sprague VanderWeele

    This beautiful lady is my baby sister:) I will never forget that day she called me to tell me she had breast cancer. When you hear the word “cancer”, you always assume the worst, the worst being my sister is not going to be taken away from this family! She decided right away that she was not going to sit around and feel sorry for herself, that she was going to keep her head up high and stay positive and beat this thing! She has our dad’s ambition, when she makes up her mind to do something, she does it and there’s no looking back! It seemed like there were a lot of set backs, if the doctor said something shouldn’t happen, it usually did happen. But, I think it made her that much stronger and determined. Heather, you are such a beautiful person inside and out and such a great inspiration to many:) Usually growing up your younger siblings look up to the older ones, but that is not always the case, I look up to you. I am truly blessed to have you in my life and you will always be my hero:) I love you my little booboo. xoxo

  2. Irene Triplett

    Just want to let you know how thankful I am that you are okay….I thought a lot about your family esp. those sweet kids!!
    Love & prayers,

    • Heather Dawson

      Thank you Irene, the thoughts and prayers were always appreciated.

  3. Jeff VanderWeele

    Heather, you are an amazing woman. Your strength and courageous personality is an inspiration to many. You are right when you say you have a great support group and strong family, I got to it is this first hand. I am glad to call you my sister in law and am blessed to be a part of your family.
    Love you,

    • Heather Dawson

      Thank you Jeff. Love you like a brother 🙂

  4. Heather Dawson

    Thx Fifi, I look up to you in many ways too.

  5. Kelly Cleven

    Love you Heather! You are an amazing woman and Rich is an amazing man!

  6. Charleen Bechtold

    Heather you are one awesome and inspiring lady. We are blessed to have you in our life.

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