Denah Phillips is a teacher at Branford Elementary School and a breast cancer survivor. She said upon self examining herself she found an abnormality and decided to go to the doctor for confirmation.
“I found a lump in December of 2009,” said Phillips. “I was going in for a mammogram in March, so I put it off until March.”
She said nothing showed up on the mammogram. The medical technician who ran the test for Phillips felt the lump as well and notified radiology saying there was something there even though the x-ray showed nothing.
“Fifteen percent of all cancers don’t show up on the mammograms,” said Phillips. She agreed 15 percent was a fairly high number especially on the subject of cancer. She said her doctor then sent her to have a sonogram done and then they were able to see the lump.
They did a biopsy on the tissue to determine whether it was malignant or benign. She was concerned because she was a single mom with two kids, 10 and five-years-old. She said panic had set in before the results, but she still had faith it was going to be alright.
“Not long after the panic, I felt a sense of peace,” said Phillips.
Although understandably uncomfortable, Phillips thought it best to be up front with her kids and just tell them what was going on with mommy.
“I sat them down and asked them if they had ever heard of cancer or knew what it was,” said Phillips. “I told them that day, that I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to have to face.”
She told them she knew she would have surgery, but beyond that, which treatments, how much and what time frame were all a mystery at that point. Although there were all these unanswered questions in her mind, Phillips knew it was going to be okay.
“I learned, if it’s okay with me, it’s going to be okay with my kids,” said Phillips.
The doctor at first gave Phillips the option of having a partial or a full mastectomy and she said she struggled with the decision for quite some time. Phillips went to her oncologist and she told Phillips it seemed the lump was a bit bigger than what the report had previously shown and wanted to do an MRI.
“I’m glad that she did recommend it because they found the cancer was in 12 different areas,” said Phillips. “No single tumor was beyond stage 1, but all together would have made it much more than stage 1.”
She said if she had gone ahead and decided on a partial, a few months down the road could have revealed more advanced stages of cancer and put her at a much higher risk. She had the full mastectomy and was originally told she would have to also have chemotherapy because of the multiple locations of the cancer. She said after the mastectomy, a tissue sample was taken to pathology for tests. She said her surgeon commented that she had the “nicest” kind of cancer.
“That was something to celebrate,” smiled Phillips.
She said she did not have to undergo any chemotherapy as the surgery had removed it completely. This was 2010 and Phillips goes back every six months to be checked out and to this day, three years later, she is still cancer-free.
Phillips has had other women approach her when they have been diagnosed with breast cancer and her advice is very positive and useful.
“I tell them to stay calm and to pray number one,” said Phillips. “You really need to educate yourself about it.”
She, when first diagnosed, went to her doctor with many questions for her to “fill in the blanks” to all her unanswered outcomes and possible scenarios. She also asked the probability of many of those actually happening so that whatever happened, she would be better prepared.
“Nothing really caught me off guard other than the fact that I had great news and didn’t have to go through chemo,” said Phillips. “I was fully prepared though, if I had had to.”
Phillips’ mother had not been as fortunate. When Phillips was just four-years-old her mother, 41, had breast cancer. She said naturally the technology years ago was by comparison, very primitive and doctors were limited as to what they could do in the removal of cancers and reconstructive techniques. Phillips said she’s had reconstructive surgery, but one would never know by looking. “Back then, it was a different story. That was 1972 and all they knew how to do was radical mastectomy.”
She said they would remove so much tissue and it was quite disfiguring, and emotionally it was much more difficult for women. She said she wasn’t too concerned for herself in this time and age, as she knew she would “get it back”. She added her mom had also survived the cancer then, but passed on 10 years later after having a heart attack when she was 51.
“She was a kindergarten teacher here in Suwannee County,” said Phillips. “I teach kindergarten.”
Phillips concluded that just because women may get breast cancer doesn’t mean it’s a death sentence and the survival rates are phenomenal.
“Medical technology is out of this world,” said Phillips. “I had the best doctors.”