Breast Cancer: Stories of Survival, Courage, and InspirationCancer Care
At Lee Health, we have exceptional employees who are also incredibly strong breast cancer survivors, and we want to take this opportunity to celebrate each one of them and their inspiring stories for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Donna Davis: The Power of Support and Positivity
Donna Davis has been at Lee Health for 31 years.
“I am loved, I am strong, I am happy, and I am cancer free.”
Those are the words that Donna repeated to herself over and over again as she battled for her life after a breast cancer diagnosis in January 2017.
After breaking her shoulder, she underwent surgery and began physical therapy. But even as her shoulder healed, her underarm continued to feel tender, so she went for a mammogram. It was then that she was given the answer that every woman fears — she had triple negative breast cancer.
“My diagnosis consisted of a lump under my collarbone that was inoperable, two in my breast, and five behind my chest wall,” Donna said. “Because of this, I had to do chemotherapy first to see if it would shrink or take away the inoperable tumor.”
Donna underwent six months of chemotherapy with port placement, one surgery, and six weeks of radiation. Throughout her treatment, her friends, family, and co-workers supported her through prayers, hugs, cards, and phone calls.
Though her diagnosis was three and a half years ago, she still meets routinely with her oncologist to ensure that she is staying healthy and cancer free.
“My family, my co-workers, my friends, my faith, and others that had been through this gave me so much support,” Donna said. “I also did a countdown on treatments with the help of my grandchildren. They made me a paper chain with encouraging words on each link that I would take off after each treatment. I was determined to get this done and behind me.”
Help From a Co-Worker
One co-worker, Wanda White Nee, was integral in Donna’s recovery. Wanda has been at Lee Health for seven years and is also a breast cancer survivor.
“Wanda offered her office to me twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes to sit in a recliner to rest and meditate,” Donna said. “Before every chemo session, I would find cards from her on my desk, in my mailbox or even at my sessions with words of encouragement.”
Donna has never shared her story before, but for Breast Cancer Awareness Month she knew it was important to provide support and a positive story to those who may have been recently diagnosed or who are currently fighting their own battle.
“Keep a positive mindset; it helps with the treatment,” Donna said. “Write things down, how you are feeling, and what you are thinking. Communicate with your doctors and nurses because they have information to share that will help. Talk to others that have been through this for tips to help through the tough times.”
From ringing the bell to celebrate her last chemotherapy treatment, from her doctor telling her that her surgery was a success, to her last day of radiation treatment — Donna has precious moments that are etched into her heart.
Wanda Heit: A Role Model and Fighter
Wanda Heit has been at Lee Health for nearly 17 years.
Four months after a routine mammogram with normal results, Wanda felt a lump on the outer edge of her left breast. Her surgeon was confident that the lump would be benign, so Wanda had it removed.
But just three days later, she received devastating news: Stage 3 breast cancer.
“I was shocked to hear those words, ‘you have breast cancer,’ with no family history of breast cancer, five sisters, and I just had a mammogram with no signs,” Wanda said.
Wanda decided to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery after determining that the cancer was only in her left breast. Surgeons removed nine lymph nodes, and seven of those were positive. That meant radiation treatment.
Wanda began aggressive chemotherapy treatments, which took a toll on her body. She developed painful mouth sores, and she had a low white blood cell count. She then had to undergo a second round of radiation.
Support from her husband, co-workers, and long-distance family pushed her to continue fighting.
Taking a Walk
As a survivor, Wanda has become an inspiring example and role model for women who are battling breast cancer. She has participated in several walks for breast cancer, including the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk in Tampa Bay.
She and three of her friends trained all summer for the walk, and on Oct. 30 through Nov. 1, the four women walked 60 miles.
“While walking, we shared stories about why we walk, and it made me feel a part of something big,” Wanda said. “Crossing the finishing line, I broke down. I was tired, my feet ached, but I walked into a line of supporters cheering me into the finish line, and it was the most beautiful welcome home I had ever received.”
Wanda’s memories of her fight are still present, but she has turned the scariest news of her life into a beautiful story. She continues to be a role model to those who are currently going through their battle.
“I faced my disease in a positive manner and showed people through my example that such a thing can indeed be done,” Wanda said. “Cancer may always be a part of your life, but it won’t always be the center of your life.”
Molly Grubbs: Love and Kindness
Molly Grubbs is celebrating because it’s been exactly one year since her last chemo treatment.
Molly, who has been a part of Lee Health for five years, visited her primary care doctor in 2016 for a routine breast exam. During the exam, the doctor found a small spot.
A mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy determined that the spot was benign. After a follow-up appointment six months later, she was reassured that she was healthy. Molly returned three years later, a few days after she turned 40. A 3D mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, and an MRI showed that the same spot that had once been benign had turned cancerous, and it had spread.
Molly received a diagnosis of stage two invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ. Her right breast had three spots of cancer that had spread into the lymph nodes. She also learned that she was estrogen dominant and her body had difficulty detoxing through her liver. Molly started her treatments right away and took advantage of the incredible care and expertise of the staff at the Regional Cancer Center.
“The gift in my diagnosis was seeing how much love and kindness my family, friends, and co-workers shared with me during this difficult time,” Molly said. “I felt supported and encouraged every step of my journey.”
In June 2019, Molly underwent a double mastectomy before starting chemotherapy that lasted three months. She then began 25 rounds of radiation before entering forced menopause in January 2020. This July, Molly completed reconstructive breast surgery, a result of her double mastectomy.
An Emotional Process
“Finishing chemo stands out as the moment I am most proud of,” Molly said. “Chemo and physical therapy were both an emotional process for me. I loved the community of cancer fighters I met during my daily radiation treatments. Believe it or not, I did not mind being bald. I used that time to have fun with wigs and scarves!”
Molly’s battle against breast cancer is complete. She now visits the Regional Cancer Center for an ovarian suppression shot every three months, in addition to taking a pill everyday to block the remaining estrogen in her body.
She will potentially undergo an oophorectomy, which will put her into permanent menopause to reduce her risk for recurrence.
Molly is a fighter, and we are so grateful to have her at Lee Health!
If you are currently battling Breast Cancer or would like to share how Breast Cancer has affected you or a loved one, please reach out to Alyssa.Young@LeeHealth.org