Mother, Baseball Fan and Breast Cancer Survivor
"The staff at MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center was excellent and well-organized – I knew I wasn’t going to be overlooked or lost. I want women to know that cancer isn’t as scary as we think. We can get through it."
Hope Lives at the Oncology Center in Alma
Not many people think of cancer as a blessing, but that is how 44-year-old Cindy Austin, of Alma, describes it.
“Cancer was a blessing for me because it made me re-prioritize. Now I appreciate everything so much more,” she said.
“Cancer is a great teacher. You learn about your own strength, and you learn how strong your children are. You learn who you can count on, and who you can’t. It’s been a crazy seven months but it’s been a great journey.”
Cindy’s journey began in October of 2009, when she found a lump during a breast self-exam. “As women, we need to take care of ourselves and know what feels different,” she said. “I was always aware of what felt normal for me.”
On a Friday, Cindy had a surgical biopsy. The following Monday she was told she had cancer.
In Great Hands at Gratiot
The next week Cindy underwent a partial mastectomy to remove cancerous tissue in her right breast. Her surgeon, Peter J. Bruno, M.D., also performed a biopsy of lymph nodes under her right arm to see if the cancer had spread. The biopsy found cancer in her lymph nodes.
Following good practice for patients in Cindy’s situation, Dr. Bruno advised getting a second opinion about her choices for next steps. Dr. Bruno’s diagnosis and recommendations were confirmed by doctors at the University of Michigan Cancer Center. In fact, they told Cindy that she was in great hands and should have Dr. Bruno perform her remaining surgery.
Cindy made her decision and, a week after cancer was found in her lymph nodes, had a modified radical mastectomy on the right side, and a simple mastectomy on the left. Analysis showed cancer cells were also present in her left breast.
“Dr. Bruno’s recommendation and support of my decision to remove both breasts saved my life,” Cindy said.
After surgery to remove lymph nodes on her left side, Cindy started chemotherapy shortly after Christmas.
Chemo and Rejuvenation
“Chemo is a totally new issue,” Cindy said. “You are controlled by the calendar.” She needed six rounds of chemotherapy treatment over the course of 18 weeks. “Chemo treatment is individualized so no two people react alike. After my first treatment, I had mild flu-like symptoms. After the second, I lost some hair. By the fifth treatment, my kids saw me in a wheelchair.”
Cindy controlled what she could, and let go of what she couldn’t. “I decided to control my hair loss and shaved my head on News Year’s Eve.” She lost her appetite along with her hair. “Everything tasted like metal and sugar made me ill. However, with chemotherapy, there’s a clear end in sight. Just look forward and know it will pass. A few weeks after chemo ended I could taste food again.”
While some side effects linger, Cindy is seeing signs of rejuvenation.
“I’ve been done with chemo for two months now. While my nails and eyebrows are falling off, I know everything will grow back. My hair is already growing back – it’s a different color, but it’s growing!”
Cindy and her boys live in Alma and she was treated at MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center by Medical Oncologist and Hematologist Diane M. MacDonald, M.D.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Dr. MacDonald,” she said. “She is compassionate and caring, thoughtful and reassuring. Dr. MacDonald made sure I had all the information I could need or want. If I ever had any problems, her office was open to help me. The staff at MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center was excellent and well-organized – I knew I wasn’t going to be overlooked or lost.”
While reconstructive surgery is an option she may consider later, it is not an issue right now.
“I learned that breasts and hair don’t really matter,” Cindy said. “I never wore a wig and I played ball with my boys whenever I could.” She feels her experience benefited her sons. “They learned compassion and they learned that beauty is not easily defined. Kids are stronger -- and smarter -- than we think.”
Cindy looks forward to volunteering with patients at the Cancer Center.
“I want to help other women as they go on this journey. I can share my experience and encourage them to ask questions, go for a second opinion, and understand that they have the right to be treated with dignity and respect,” she said. “I want women to know that cancer isn’t as scary as we think. We can get through it.”
MidMichigan Gratiot Cancer Center specializes in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of blood disorders and cancer-related diagnoses. Located on the campus of MidMichigan Medical Center - Gratiot, the Cancer Center provides compassionate, patient-centered care, supported by advanced technology and experienced physicians and staff. For additional information about MidMichigan Health’s comprehensive cancer services, visit http://www.midmichigan.org/cancer.
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