Breast cancer survivors find strength after disease

By Rasmieyh Abdelnabi

Four weeks after getting married, Jodi Tyrrell was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Tyrrell, manager of operating staff services in the NIU human resources department, was just 34 years old.

“I was convinced it was a death sentence,” she said. As the first person in her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer, Tyrrell felt a strong sense of hopelessness. “I was very doom and gloom,” she said.

Not knowing anyone with breast cancer, or knowing what to expect added to fear of the disease, she said.

Tyrrell decided to go to University of Wisconsin-Madison for a second opinion. After a mastectomy, six months of chemotherapy and five years of having breast cancer, she became convinced she was going to live.

“It was definitely not a death sentence,” she said.

One in seven women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, said Alicia Huguelet, director of advocacy and communications for the Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization, Illinois Affiliate.

Huguelet said it’s important for people to realize that having cancer does not necessary mean immediate death. People do survive breast cancer.

The five-year survivor rate for women diagnosed with breast cancer is 88 percent and the 15-year survivor rate is 63 percent. If the cancer is caught early the five-year survivor rate is 98 percent.

Huguelet said because the causes of breast cancer are unclear it cannot be prevented, but early detection can make the cancer less severe.

Women should practice early detection by performing a self-breast examination once a month, and women older than 20 should go for a clinical breast exam every two to three years. For women older than 40, going once a year is best.

“A mammogram is a specific type of imaging that uses a low-dose x-ray system for the examination of the breast,” Huguelet said.

“The discomfort does not even compare to having breast cancer and it’s well worth the pain,” she said.

Since her 20s, Anne Davidson was watching for breast cancer because of her fibrocystic, or cyst-forming, breasts. When a lump was discovered, she thought it was just another cyst. However, an evening call from her family physician changed her life forever. He told Davidson she needed to have a biopsy on both breasts.

She was angry.

“I never felt hopeless, I was furious. I was really angry because I didn’t want cancer and I thought I did everything to prevent it and I was fairly indignant. I felt that my body had betrayed me,” she said.

After having a lumpectomy, a surgery to remove the lump, she went through chemotherapy and radiation. The chemotherapy caused Davidson to lose all of her hair. “There were some advantages to it, you never have a bad hair day, it cuts quite a bit of time off of your morning routine,” she said.

Davidson learned many lessons from her battle with breast cancer. “I’m stronger than I thought I was and I learned to treasure my family and friends more than I have before, not to take anyone for granted.