Donna Homan has been successful in her battle with breast cancer first diagnosed in 2000. She continues to raise her daughters and operate Donna's Designs, a flower and gift shop in Winfield. Her determination, positive approach to regaining her health and willingness to share her story continues to be an inspiration. Below is the entire interview Donna gave in 2000 and published in the William Newton Hospital community newsletter that year.
An Interview in 2000 with Donna Homan
The following interview with Donna Homan tells the story of a courageous woman who takes one step at a time in her war against cancer. Donna focuses her sight on the light at the end of the tunnel and her many blessings.
Donna is well known in the Winfield area for her beautiful store, Donna's Designs, and community work. She began her business 17 years ago in what was then the Davis Floral Company. She has two children - Allison who is 8 years old and Cassie who is 5.
Donna faces daily challenges in running her own business and raising a family, such as finding lost ballet slippers for Allison before dance class and which pretty picture created by Cassie to leave out for customers to enjoy. But now, these everyday smaller challenges are more difficult because Donna is fighting breast cancer.
Did you discover the lump yourself or was it detected through mammography?
Actually, neither one. I went for a routine visit to the doctor; and that is when the lump was discovered, during my yearly check-up.
Does your family have a history of breast cancer?
Big time! I am the sixth of the first cousins to have cancer. Also, my very favorite aunt on my mom's side got done with her treatments a month before I was diagnosed. On my dad's side, four of his sisters have died from breast cancer. So it is very rampant in our family. One of the good things that has come from this is that I had a genetic blood test done. The test costs about a thousand dollars. The doctor in California that studies the samples just recently called, and he has isolated a gene that may be causing the cancer in our family. He has agreed to check all of my cousins for free. This may not result in any cures or anything now, but with advances in genetic science, we may be able to help our daughters in the next twenty years.
What tests or procedures did you have after the lump was detected?
After the lump was found, I had a more extensive mammogram which, by the way, I had a mammogram less than a year before. Something I recommend and have done for a long time is to switch off between a mammogram and my pap smear at 6-month intervals so that it is less than a year in between visits to a professional who can check the breasts. Then I had a needle biopsy which came back benign. The breast specialist I was seeing at the time, however, Dr. Marilee McBoyle, was so confident that what she was feeling was not good that she recommended that I have a lumpectomy done. So I did. This is how we found the cancer.
What led to your decision to have double mastectomy and reconstruction?
I chose to do a double mastectomy because of my family history. I decided that I was not going to go through this twice. Dr. McBoyle totally supported me in this decision, especially with the family history. My mother was against this because she said I was going to be so sore, but I said, "Mom, I am not going through this again." Even though they could not find anything radiologically on the other side, the pathology report showed that there was encapsulated cancer on that side too. The other part of the question that I thought it would be easier to start the reconstruction at the same time. It cuts down on the amount of surgery you have to undergo. The radiation doctor hasn't let me complete the reconstruction yet because of the fear that it would interfere with those treatments, but it has been started.
You are currently taking chemotherapy treatments. What are the elements of this process?
The first three months I had to take four treatments of what they call AC. This is Adriamycin and Cytoxin. I take those every three weeks. After that I have threes months of Taxol. I am in a Mayo Clinical Trial that Dr. Shaker Dakhil started me on. I can do the trial here. And what this means is that I am going to take the Taxol every week instead of every three weeks, only at a lower dose. The test is to see, since I will actually be getting more Taxol than those that are on the three-week procedure, if there are less side effects with the lower doses.
Chemo is not very fun. The first three or four days after each treatment I don't feel good at all. I usually miss work for about three or four days and then I have another three days where I just don't feel great, but I can go ahead and work and everything. Then after about a week I am pretty much back to normal. This time a rash broke out on my arm, but not from the chemo. It is from the shot I take to boost the white blood cells. Last time I had the puffy eyes, runny nose, but I don't have a reaction like this. I do realize how lucky I am, though. A lot of people who have to take these shots get excruciating bone pain. I am fortunate because every once and a while I'll have some minor ankle and wrist pain, but a little Tylenol fixes that. Some people have even gone to the emergency room in so much pain, thinking they are having a heart attack. So, I'm fortunate.
The girls in the lab are very nice. They feel worse than I do when they can't get the stick the first time. There are just days when my veins don't cooperate. The girls in the Cancer Center are great, too!
Will there by any other procedures or treatments following the chemo?
After the three months of Taxol, I have seven weeks of radiation. The way it was described to me was that even though I have had the mastectomy, they feel possibly there could be little small cancer cells in my skin that the radiation will get if the chemo doesn't. I am hoping that they get the radiation center operational by early February at William Newton; but if not, I will be making 35 trips to Wichita. I have had several offers of people to take me up there, and I think I am going to take people up on that just to kind of have some fun three days a week. Having different people to drive and talk to will break it up a little bit.
What are some of the issues you have had to face and what is it like being a person with cancer?
I haven't really feared death. Basically they have told me that I have the garden variety of cancer that they know the best treatment for and what works, so I have never really dealt with it in terms of life and death. To me, it's been "Okay - I am going to have a really tough year and then I am going to be fine!" That has been my philosophy as opposed to "Am I going to die?" I have never even allowed myself to think that way. I try to be really positive.
In the beginning I made this little list of positive things about breast cancer. Some of the things on the list were: no more mammograms; I can be any size I want to be now; I will never have to droop or sag. Just things like that. I tried to laugh about it. You can either laugh about it or cry for months. I would rather be laughing. That's a whole lot better than crying the whole time.
I do have to say that losing my hair was worse than losing my breasts. You can disguise the breast loss with falsies, reconstruction, etc. But with your hair, it is so visible and you have to see that every day. I have a wig that I wear for dressy occasions, but it is so hot out right now that I don't wear it all of the time because it's itchy. Some friends of mine who are former cancer patients gave me a box of hats, and my little girls and I sat down and tried them on one day to see which ones looked the best. But for me, this is the worst thing. Another difficult things is that nothing tastes the same as it used to, especially water. I have had some problems with canker sores and just have had to make myself eat for the nutritional value.
How has this illness affected you at home or at work?
I'm tired of not feeling up to par. With my kids I kind of feel this guilt because I can't do everything I want to do with them. Sometimes they want to do things and I'm tired and don't really feel like it. They may want to have friends over, and I just feel like I am letting them down a little bit. Paul has been really great. I think at first he was overwhelmed because he couldn't even run into the grocery store for a gallon of milk without someone asking how I was doing. I think he got a little tired of talking about it all of the time, but we appreciate the caring people.
For work I have a list of blessings, and one of them is that I have the best crew I have ever had. They can handle it when I am gone a few days here and there. The timing of this cancer was a good thing because I have a staff around that can handle it. I just don't have to stress about it. Another thing is, I have never had to go through the whining stage. Immediately I had support from my family, friends, and church. I think, "Yeah, that's why it happened to me, because I have all of these people to take care of me." My customers have been great, too. There is hardly a day that goes by that I don't get a couple of cards.
If there was any advice that you would give to women about breast cancer or breast health, what would it be?
Make sure you never miss your yearly exams and learn to do the self exams. That was my problem. I used to try, but I could never really tell what I was feeling; so I quit doing it. This lump was so big that my doctor was screaming at me that I should have found it. Once he pointed it out to me, I could feel it. So bug your friends and family about getting checked if they don't.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
There is so much support and caring people in this town. On my last treatment three weeks ago, some of my friends met me there and presented me with a prayer quilt created by the members of the Walnut Valley Quilt Guild. I had 81 blocks made for me that had inspirational sayings, Bible verses, and even one by Lorri Price that said "Blessed are those who lose their hair for they shall have empathy with bald men." They had my mother and my children make a block, too, and then put all of these together into a quilt for me. My last treatment was pretty rough because my veins weren't cooperating, and this act of kindness with such a neat gift just really lifted my spirits. Lots of people have brought meals, too. The support in Winfield is incredible.
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