Susie's Story


Susie Davis shares hope. This is her survivor story:


Written by Susie Davis: 12/12/11
Dealing with Stage 1 breast cancer in the winter of 2007 was not part of the celebration plans I envisioned as I prepared to retire from 35 years of teaching at the end of the school year. However, feeling something new in my left breast during a self check prompted me to schedule a long overdue mammogram. Still, I wasn’t that worried for a number of reasons: first, breast cancer was not part of my family history; second, I was small breasted; third, I wasn’t experiencing any pain or discomfort; and finally, I was getting older - surely this bodily change was an aging factor. However, two sets of mammograms and an ultrasound later revealed a 17-mm mass on my left breast in the upper outer left quadrant. The results of these 2 diagnostic measures required one more procedure which was a core needle biopsy.

On March 8, 2007 the verdict was in. My husband Kirk and I met with the surgeon who reported that I had an infiltrating ductal carcinoma of high grade with strong estrogen receptors (ER). While the surgeon reviewed and Kirk absorbed the multi page report, I was still stuck on page 1 with the doctor’s words, “Yours came back cancer.” We were told my treatment would consist of surgery to remove the tumor, radiation sessions, and the possibility of chemotherapy. Following the surgeon’s input and armed with lots of heavy reading material, we went home to make our choices regarding the desired type of surgery and radiation therapy. We decided on a lumpectomy and the Mammosite RTS, a relatively new option of radiating only the breast tissue inside the lumpectomy cavity. This treatment consisted of five days of radiation, two times a day. With those decisions in place, and because the cancer was aggressive, a surgical date was set for the following week.

On a snowy March 16 at the Chambersburg Hospital, the lumpectomy was completed, and a temporary balloon for the Mammosite RTS was fitted in that cavity to hold the space for the replacement one used during treatment. My surgery went well, and when I woke up from the anesthesia, I was relieved to hear that the preliminary findings reported that no cancer cells were found in the Sentinel lymph node. I went back to the hospital on March 23 to have the replacement balloon inserted and began the first day of radiation three days later. In no time at all, ten radiation treatments were completed and the balloon removed. I was rather upbeat. I was back to teaching and checking off treatments and doctor appointments one by one. Normalcy was returning to my life, and I liked the feeling.

Realistically, with any journey one can expect a few bumps along the way. However, I was new at being sick, so I wasn’t prepared for my first major detour that occurred at our April meeting with the oncologist, a man I truly respect and hold in high regard. In the lab report, an additional finding from the core needle biopsy revealed that I had extra copies of the protein growth factor from the Her/2 – neu gene in my tumor. I would need the antibody, Herceptin, to bind to these proteins and prevent growth. Four chemotherapy treatments spaced three weeks apart would be ordered for me beginning in May. Prescribed especially for my battle strategy was a combination of three drugs, Taxotere, Carboplatin, and Herceptin. These four treatments would end in August, but the Herceptin would be continued for a year! One more important battle plan was put into placed at that meeting as well. I would immediately begin hormonal therapy by taking the drug Femara. This tiny little pill taken daily for five years reduces the hormone level that activates the ER receptor. Like it or not, doctors, nurses, and technicians were fast becoming my new social group.

With two chemo treatments down, the second major detour came out of nowhere. My first inkling of trouble came on June 7, the last day of school, when a student gave me a goodbye hug. I felt tremendous pain. At first I didn’t think much about it, but three days later after taking a shower, I noticed an odor from my left breast, and an obvious breakdown of tissue revealed that the wound had not healed underneath the skin. I couldn’t get an appointment to see the surgeon for two days, and by then my left breast was swollen to twice the size of the right one. At the Tuesday appointment the doctor immediately placed me on an antibiotic and gave me salve to put on my breast. However, one week later, it was determined that the wound was not responding, so a major debridement of the necrotic area and drainage of the abscess was done at the hospital. The large wound could not be stitched because it had to heal from the inside out. This healing could take up to 2-3 months. Therefore, my last two chemo treatments were postponed and eventually cancelled. The Herceptin treatments, however, were still on schedule.

On the advice of a friend, in mid July I went to the Advanced Wound Care Center in Carlisle for help to close the gaping hole in my left breast measuring 4X4.7cm with a depth of 3.5cm. A gifted doctor who used a number of different treatments closed the wound site over the next six months. Two of the types of treatments were especially helpful. The first was a wound vac machine that I wore for nine weeks. Slowly the tissue began to grow, and the hole started filling in. The second was the Apligraf, a true medical wonder. An Apligraf, the foreskin of an infant, was placed in the now smaller cavity to adhere to my tissue and encourage it to grow. It worked; the hole closed, and I was released!

My mantra in the winter of 2007 was and still is something good always comes out of something not so good. Today, I stand in awe and am humbled by all the blessings I received during and after that incredible journey. There is but one explanation for this: only God could take a year of cancer and turn it into one of the most beautiful years of my life. Today, I am a survivor of 4 years, 9 months, and 4 days.

In closing, I’d like to share the verse that I claimed during some dark and trying days: Proverbs 73:26: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

© 2013 Cumberland Valley Breast  Care Alliance, Chambersburg, PA 17201