As part of our commitment to spreading awareness and supporting the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, we are featuring Survivor Stories through the entire month of October. This first story is from a very strong and brave woman, Diana Devlin, who survived not one, but two cancers! Read below for her story.
I have always been a very healthy individual with absolutely no medical issues. In April of 2004 I felt a small lump in my right breast but it didn’t seem out of the ordinary because I have fibrocystic breasts. I was due for my yearly checkup and I made an appointment to see my doctor in June 2004. Upon examining me, he didn’t seem alarmed. He knew my history with lumpy breasts and said the lump was small, but still thought it best I see a surgeon so they could do a biopsy of the lump. When I phoned the surgeon’s office, they wouldn’t make the appointment because, as a freelancer for a skincare company, I had no insurance. They said to me “what will you do if it is something that requires surgery? How will you pay for it?” I became worried and started making phone calls to insurance companies. I was told by all of them, that if I had any pre-existing condition, any insurance I purchase would not cover any costs related to it. And since it was now in my medical records that a lump was found, if any bills were incurred to treat that lump, it would not be covered. I was scared, and I wasn’t sure what to do next.
So, at first, I did nothing. I let the rest of the summer go on as usual, but every night before falling asleep, I worried about the lump. I didn’t know where to turn, but I knew I couldn’t keep worrying. I finally decided I needed to go for a mammography, even if I had to pay for it myself. I scheduled the mammography in October. Seems fitting with all the Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns going on that month, right?
Even before the appointment, I had a gut feeling that I knew what the outcome was going to be. After the procedure the nurse returned with a concerned look on her face. She said they needed to do an ultrasound on one breast to get a better idea what the lump was consisted of, so they could determine if it was cancerous. She escorted me down to the ultrasound department, and by the time we arrived, I was crying and told her how I didn’t have insurance and didn’t know what I was going to do. They did their best to console me and then proceeded to do the ultrasound. Little did I know, a guardian angel was watching over me while I had the ultrasound.
A few hours later, after returning home, the nurse called me. Apparently there had been a surgeon at the hospital when I was having my tests done and the nurse had told her my story of being a freelancer with no insurance. It was at this point that my guardian angel was revealed. The surgeon, who turned out to be the kindest woman I’ve ever met in my life, insisted I call her office to schedule an appointment for a biopsy. It turned out to be the very surgeon I had tried to get an appointment with months earlier. We did the biopsy, and 2 days later, it was confirmed that I had Stage 1 breast cancer. When I panicked the surgeon told me about the Charity Care program, which helps individuals access affordable healthcare. With the guidance of my newfound angel, I was 100% approved for the program.
Surgery to remove the tumor was scheduled as soon as possible, upon my request. The surgery went extremely well and the pathology report had a fantastic prognosis. It appears the tumor had not grown any larger from when my gynecologist had examined me 4 months earlier. In the months leading up to the diagnosis, I had a “feeling” that something was “wrong”, yet I had no idea what it was. I began working out at the gym 5 days a week and had an extremely healthy diet, to help ease the irrational anxiety I was having. So I look back in retrospect, and wonder if the radical change I made to my health may have halted the cancer from growing/spreading. My only treatment after surgery was 7 weeks of daily radiation therapy.
Two months after completing my breast cancer radiation treatments, I began to “sense” something was wrong again. I tried fighting off the feeling, assuming it was just a normal feeling of worry that everyone goes through after they’ve completed treatment for cancer. When you’re in the “fight” mode, going through treatments, you have a sense of control, you’re actively fighting the cancer. But once you’ve completed treatments, you feel vulnerable.
By the end of the summer of 2005, I began having anxiety attacks. I made an appointment with my radiation oncologist and told him I thought there was cancer somewhere else in my body. I mentioned that a few months earlier I had seen blood in the toilet after I had gone to the bathroom. My father had colon cancer at the age of 62 and I was only 39 years old at this point. I told him I wanted to have a colonoscopy. I knew deep down in my heart that they were going to find something, despite not having any symptoms. When I awoke from the sedation, my fears were confirmed. My doctor found a tiny little growth. It was SO small that he put a tattoo of a black dot on either side of it so the next doctor would be able to find it. The pathology report came back and confirmed it was colorectal cancer.
My surgeon who had done my breast surgery was truly shocked when she received the news. I was completely wrapped in fear, and honestly, filled with rage. I couldn’t believe that someone as healthy as I was stricken with TWO cancers back-to-back. I felt like my body was betraying me! Surgery was scheduled immediately (9/16/05), and thankfully, went extremely well.
As of September 16, 2005, I have been cancer-free. There have been no recurrences or any new cancers cropping up. But I have to be very honest, I was really knocked for a loop when I got a 2nd diagnosis so soon after the first. I just celebrated being 7 years colon cancer free last month. I will be celebrating being breast cancer free this month on October 27th. Mine is definitely a success story, and a true testament of needing to listen to your body. One thing is for sure, I learned just how strong and resilient I really am. It’s a true wonder that I made it through all of this.
The first couple of years were a very dark time for me. I’m still a work in progress and continuing to reinvent myself. Throughout these trials I’ve faced, I’ve become much more compassionate about life and I got involved with rescuing animals. I’m still very passionate about skincare and ingredients, and have become the skincare expert in my circle of friends and family. Sometimes you’ll even find me advising total strangers in the skincare aisle about different moisturizers and cleansers! My boyfriend always chuckles when he sees that happen. Throughout this experience, I’ve continued to take very good care of myself and my skin, so despite treatments and surgery, none of it has shown in my outward, physical appearance. I still feel beautiful. And now, with all the tests and treatments I’ve been through, I know I’m just as beautiful on the outside as I am on the inside.
Permission was granted by the writer of this blog to be posted on this site.