Lynn Zaballa lives “every day like it’s coming up.” She tries to “live every day to its fullest.” Photo by BEN KATZ

SCOUTING AROUND: Breast cancer survivors share their stories

    There’s usually quite a bit of pink at Murphy Medical Center’s Ladies’ Night Out events on the first Tuesday evening of every month, but this month pink ribbons were noticeable on scarves and other accessories for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
    The keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Nerney, spoke with women packed into McGuire’s Millrace Farm in Peachtree about the disease, with a brief humorous tangent about blue-footed boobies. The surgeon gave a presentation that provided answers to why people get cancer, calling cancer a cell mutation in which the cells divide uncontrollably.
    He added that the risk for breast cancer increases with a person’s age. While one in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime, more women are surviving.
    Here are the stories of some local survivors of the disease.

Dona Adams
    Adams felt a lump in her breast in spring 2009, but ignored it. In November of that year, she finally got it checked and was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. Her lump had grown quickly to 14 centimeters.
    “So I’m a big advocate of not ignoring lumps,” she said. “Do something about it when you find it.”
    To shrink the cancer before surgery, Adams first went through four rounds of chemotherapy. She had a radical mastectomy, then went through another three rounds of chemo and 26 rounds of radiation, all before the close of 2010.
    “It was very successful,” the six-year cancer survivor said. “I’m doing amazing now.”
    Last year, Adams elected to remove her other breast.
    “I wanted to be even again,” she added. “I decided it was time. I was tired of worrying.”

Lynn Zaballa
    Zaballa’s mother fought breast cancer about 40 years ago, and as a result she had been getting mammograms since she was 35 years old. She even dedicated some of her free time from her nursing career to educate women and men how to do self-exams for the American Cancer Society in Florida and participated in all the walks.
    She had been in Cherokee County for a year, working as a nurse in the Alzheimer’s unit at Murphy Medical, when she went for her regular mammogram in May 2011. In June, she got a letter, only reading up to the part that said no cancer found – but there was a “but” she didn’t read.
    An ultrasound was needed. That ultrasound found something, and after a biopsy Zaballa was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in August 2011. She went to Emory Hospital in Atlanta for treatment, where doctors did tests that found two more lumps.
    Even though she taught others how to detect lumps, Zaballa couldn’t feel hers until after the tests found the lumps, mainly because of the condition of her breasts. She said regular self-exams are still important for early detection.
    “If you feel every month, you get to know your breasts,” Zaballa said.
    She had a mastectomy in September 2011, and started reconstructive surgery as soon as she could. The breast cancer survivor is now fighting bladder cancer.

Grace Carringer
    “I was diagnosed at age 60 as the result of a mammogram,” Carringer said. “I had stage IIA breast cancer.”
    She had a modified radical mastectomy. Because the cancer spread to her lymphatic system, went through eight treatments of chemotherapy three weeks apart for a total of 24 weeks.
    Carringer and her doctors believe her cancer may have been caused by years of estrogen hormone treatments she had been receiving.
    “I wasn’t that shocked,” she said. “I just figured I was one of those people would get breast cancer because I have dense breasts.”
    Carringer said she has been cancer-free for 14 years and participates each year in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. She keeps up with her breast health, getting yearly mammograms and exams from her doctor.

Janice Hoogendoorn
    Hoogendoorn was watched closely for three months because she had a lot a lumps and cysts. “Then the fatal date came,” she said.
    She had two separate growths of breast cancer. The doctor said Hoogendoorn had to have a mastectomy, removing both breasts at the same time. When the reports came back, it showed she had a different type of cancer in the
milk glands of her right breast.
    However, after surgery all of her margins were clear, and she never had to have chemotherapy or radiation. She had a TRAM flap procedure, in which the skin, fat and part of the muscle of the abdomen were used to re-create her breasts. She said they even tattooed nipples and created a faux belly button.
    Hoogendoorn is a 16-year survivor who acts as an encourager to others fighting breast cancer. “It’s only the beginning of better things,” she said.

Kathi Rogers
    Rogers has survived cancer three times, fighting melanoma four years before her only bout with breast cancer. She said fighting melanoma was harder because of the treatment schedule.
    “I didn’t think I’d ever get any kind of cancer,” she said. Three of her mother’s sisters died from breast cancer, but she never really thought of it because she wasn’t close with them.
    “In November 2013, they found the lump,” she said. “I got it biopsied, and it turned out to be breast cancer.”
    Rogers had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Her sister came from Raleigh to help take care of her.
    She remembers that a lot of people couldn’t understand why she was so positive throughout her treatment.
    “If you get breast cancer, stay positive,” Rogers said. “It really helps. And pray, a lot. ... One girl came up to me really sad, and I said, ‘Don’t do that.’ I wasn’t going to let it beat me.”
    Samantha Sinclair is the Scouting Around columnist for the Cherokee Scout. You can reach her by email, scoutingaround@cherokeescout.com; fax, 837-5832; or by leaving a message at 837-5122.