Stories of Survival from Real Women Who’ve Been There
Breast cancer survivors are passionate in their survivorship and supporting other women who are going through it. This month, we feature some local survivors who are helping others and changing the way we deal with the disease.
Not many women would count breast cancer as a blessing but Dawn Russo isn’t like many women. After being diagnosed in March of this year, she has experienced an outpouring of love and kindness from family, friends, her boyfriend and even the staff at Imperial Salon and Spa where she works. After missing a scheduled mammogram she discovered a lump in her left breast and knew she needed to take action. Thankfully, the cancer was contained in her breasts and the tumor had not reached her chest wall.
“It is so important to follow what they (doctors) say,” Dawn said. “Do not miss your mammogram – you’ve got to go.”
Once her hair started falling out, she embraced her baldness by transforming her look with wigs and also proudly modeling a bald head, hoping to lessen the traumatic experience for others going through treatment. Even before her treatments were complete, Dawn began helping others through nonprofit organizations. She wants to do even more including starting her own website where patients can get wigs that are donated.
“I have had an extraordinarily blessed experience.“I don’t feel sad or bad. I truly have been ridiculously blessed since I’ve been diagnosed.”
“I don’t think women know the strength they have.”
Windy regularly performed self-exams so when she felt something that wasn’t right, she knew something might be wrong, even after nothing showed up on the mammogram. She was right. Though no one in her family had cancer of any kind, she had been diagnosed with stage I breast cancer. She went through chemo and radiation, deciding to forgo surgery and has been finished with treatments since August of last year.
She knew how important her mental state was in her recovery and how detrimental stress can be so she stayed positive with the help of her family. “The support you get is unbelievable.” Since then Windy has been on a mission to pay it forward. She raised $5,000 for Hope for a Single Mom, an organization that assists single working women in their battle with breast cancer. Paying it forward is just one of the lessons that Windy has learned. Even something as simple as a smile or opening a door for someone can make a difference for someone who is going through a difficult time.
I have a voice,” Windy said. “I can tell everyone, ‘you can beat this!’”
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
After finding a lump in her breast, Michaela didn’t become too concerned since she had been dealing with fibrocystic breasts, breasts that are composed of tissue that feels lumpy, all her life. But after the biopsy results came back positive for cancer, Michaela decided to have a bilateral mastectomy. Michaela’s mother had a mastectomy 30 years ago and has now recently turned 80. “I felt like this is a setback,” Michaela said. While her doctor warned her that losing her breasts might be traumatic, Michaela began reading up on the subject including a book that encouraged women to say goodbye to breasts as an easier way to letting them go. Though she opted not to complete chemo treatments, she has practiced several alternative treatment options like hypnotherapy and essential oils. She had already begun eating a Paleo diet before she was diagnosed with cancer. Since then she has become stricter about watching what she eats. Though Michaela admits asking others for help was difficult for her to do, she credits her husband, Brent, her mother and many others for helping her heal.
“Be positive. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, be informed.”
Janet admits it had been seven years since she had a mammogram. But after a husband’s co-worker was diagnosed, he insisted it was time for her to get one. She agreed and shortly afterward, she learned she had breast cancer. The following week, she went in for surgery. She did her own research and felt thoroughly prepared by the staff at Parrish Medical Center. She also received radiation treatment and four rounds of chemotherapy. “It has been a journey,” Janet said. She finished her last chemo treatment on October 5 of last year and participated in the Making Strides Walk that same month. As a teacher of special needs students at Mila Elementary, Janet knows how it can seem easy for women to put off taking care of themselves – but now she is an advocate, encouraging women to have their mammograms done, even if it means missing a day of work.
“Take this journey, stay positive,” Janet said. “Keep the faith. Know that you will get through it. Embrace life and thank God for it.”