LuAnn's Story: A Breast Cancer Survivor Shares her Experience
SIOUX FALLS (Oct. 1, 2009) - Cancer. "When I heard it, I thought, 'that's not me. That word doesn't fit into my life." But as she stepped into a whirlwind of appointments and consultations with oncologists and surgeons, LuAnn Neugebauer of Brandon came to terms with the fact that she was indeed among the one in eight women who will experience breast cancer sometime during their lifetimes. "Instead of asking why me, I started asking why not me."
LuAnn is among a team of "Think Pink" ladies - breast cancer survivors who serve as honorary co-chairs for the annual Avera Race Against Breast Cancer, and also raise awareness about breast cancer and the importance of regular screenings.
LuAnn says she, like many women, fell behind on her annual mammography screenings, letting too much time elapse between tests. Although her grandmother had breast cancer, she was diagnosed in her 80s, so that family history didn't cause LuAnn to believe she would inherit breast cancer.
In March of 2006, at age 49, LuAnn felt a lump in her right breast while getting dressed for work. Immediately alarm bells went off her in mind. "I just felt sick, but I had volunteered to take on a shift at work and had to go. Maybe that was good because it took my mind off it." As soon as she got off work, she called the doctor and made an appointment. During her evening workouts, LuAnn was in the habit of walking, but this night, she ran. "I just wanted to run until I couldn't run anymore."
Even though she feared the worst, hearing the actual diagnosis still came as a shock. "When they told me, I cried. But after the blow of hearing the news, you have to get everything lined up." LuAnn relied on support from her fiancé, Randy, her family, friends and especially the power of prayer. "I felt myself as being in God's hands, and he carried me through it."
LuAnn's cancer was invasive in her right breast, meaning that the cancer had started to break through normal breast tissue. Pre-invasive cancer, confined to breast tissues, was detected in her left breast.
Her first line of treatment involved a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Then LuAnn was scheduled for eight rounds of chemotherapy. The invasive tumor was 1.1 cm in size, and her doctor told her that chemotherapy should be considered for a tumor larger than 1 cm.
During her recovery, LuAnn benefited from massage as a complementary therapy, and also support groups which helped her make meaningful connections with other breast cancer survivors. "My circle of friends really grew during this time," she said.
Just a few weeks after her last chemo treatment on Oct. 3, 2006, LuAnn's daughter, Natalie, was married on Oct. 28. "She had asked me even before I knew I had cancer if I would be her maid of honor." Although LuAnn would have wanted to have her own hair, eyebrows and eyelashes for the special day, with the help of a styled hairpiece and makeup artistry, she felt confident enough to walk down the aisle.
Just as she viewed her daughter's wedding day, LuAnn sees every day as a gift - even ordinary days when she's on the job at the coffee bar at Avera McKennan or at Avera Behavioral Health Center. "My faith was always strong, but it's so much stronger now. Every day we're given is to be treasured as a gift from God."
Based on her experiences, LuAnn advises other women to fear breast cancer enough to get regular screenings, yet realize that life does go on after breast cancer.
During October, Avera McKennan urges every woman to "Think Pink" for breast health. Recommendations for all women include monthly self-breast exams and annual clinical breast exams. Women over age 40 should have annual mammograms. Screenings should begin earlier for women at high risk based on heredity and other factors. For more information, go to www.AveraThinkPink.org.