Herald JournalWinsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Oct. 7, 2002

Sue Dunne wins war with an elusive kind of breast cancer

By Julie Yurek

Sue Dunne of Winsted fought breast cancer this past year and won: she's in remission.

October is breast cancer awareness month. There are more than two million breast cancer survivors, in the United States today, according to the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations.

More than 200,000 new breast cancer cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.

Dunne's ordeal began in late July 2001. She was visiting the doctor for some pains she was having that was unrelated to the cancer. Her doctor found a lump, she said.

Dunne was 47 years old. Fifteen months earlier, a mammogram Dunne had showed nothing. She had mammograms routinely, she said.

Later, Dunne's cancer turned out to be a kind that normally does not show up on a mammogram, she said.

Eight days after diagnosis, Aug. 3, 2001, Dunne had surgery. Initially, she thought she was going to have a lumpectomy.

However, the day of the surgery, the surgeon strongly recommended the whole removal of the left breast, which Dunne consented to.

"It's a good thing the surgeon recommended a mastectomy," Dunne said. A biopsy of the breast found another lump, two in total.

"If I had just had the lumpectomy done, the second lump would have been missed," she said. "I'm very thankful for the doctor's recommendation."

A short time after the surgery, Dunne went through chemotherapy and radiation. She required the chemo because two of her lymph nodes also had cancer, she said.

Once cancer is found in the lymph nodes, she said, it means the cancer has traveled in the bloodstream. Chemo kills cancer cells, wherever it is in the body.

The radiation was debatable, because of the cancer being in the lymph nodes, Dunne said.

Her last radiation treatment was March 20 of this year.

She also has to continue taking the drug Tamoxifen for five years, she said. It's fairly routine for breast cancer survivors to take Tamoxifen, she added.

Dunne's family took the news pretty well, she said.

She is very thankful that the cancer didn't occur until after her two sons weddings, Jamey's in August 2000 and Russell's in June 2001.

"I'm just glad that I wasn't diagnosed before the weddings," she said. "I wouldn't have been able to help much."

Dunne has two other sons, Brian and Curt. Her husband, Dennis, works at Littfin Truss. The family has lived in Winsted for eight years.

Dunne's mother and five sisters took the news of her breast cancer harder, she said.

"My mother never thought she'd have to see one of her daughters go through something like that," Dunne said. "It really impacted my sisters."

Dunne is the oldest of eight children.

Support was abundant

Dunne was given a large packet of information from the American Cancer Society (ACS) about nutrition, treatment, and many other issues that affect cancer patients.

The ACS also gives boxes of makeup to help combat the physical effects of cancer, Dunne said.

Dunne received a lot of support from Ridgeview Hospital in Waconia where she had her surgery, chemo, and radiation, she said.

Ridgeview Medical Center Breast Care Coordinator Mary Sladek gives patients literature informing them what the process is when going through breast cancer and gives them some supplies they need after surgery and treatment, Sladek said.

Sladek kept close tabs on Dunne and the other women going through treatment, Dunne said.

Sladek called after treatments to see how Dunne was doing, and she would often call just to check up on her, Dunne said. "It was very encouraging."

The hospital also offers a support group that meets the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, Dunne said.

The support group helped Dunne know that what she was going through was normal, she said. "Every person has their own experience, but there are similarities we share," she said.

Another group, a group of nurses who have a company called Underneath it All, were also very helpful in Dunne's recovery, she said.

The nurses bring different kinds of bras and prosthetics into the home of the patient, where she can try on the different ones, Dunne said.

"It was great to be in the privacy of your own home, and they bring a huge box of items," she said.

Dunne does not plan on having reconstructive surgery, she said. "For me, it's not worth the side effects."

Underneath it All will be speaking to the support group at Ridgeview Hospital Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 6 p.m., Dunne said.

Life after cancer

Though Dunne is finished with treatment, she is still feeling the effects of it.

She still gets tired and achy, she said. She takes a nap after she gets home from her job as a customer service representative at Vitran in Winsted.

"I was very impressed with Vitran when I was going through treatment," Dunne said. The company was very understanding.

A man from the corporate office in Indianapolis, Ind. even sent Dunne some wigs for when she lost her hair, she said. (She didn't lose her hair, and she now plans to donate the wigs to the ACS for other cancer patients).

Chemo treatment usually made Dunne stay home two to three days after each treatment. She had four treatment sessions, four weeks apart, she said.

The sessions were supposed to be three weeks apart, but her blood count was too low, so doctors added another week in between treatments, she said.

Dunne didn't experience many side effects from the chemo, she said. She was given medication for the nausea, but she did experience fatigue.

"I would be fine one minute, exhausted the next," she said. "When I got that tired, the color just drained from face. It was a different tired, my body just ached."

Dunne was allowed to go home early from work if she needed to, she said.

For radiation, Dunne went during her lunch break. She had 36 treatments, Monday through Friday. A treatment would last about 10 minutes, she said.

For her, she had worse side effects from radiation than from chemo, which is unusual, she said.

"I have fair skin, so I burned very badly," Dunne said. The last few treatments were cut out because of the severity of her burns, she said.

Bright days ahead

The future looks bright for Dunne and her family.

Dunne plans to make up for the last year of immobility by doing some traveling. Her family is planning a Thanksgiving trip to Kentucky, where Russell and his wife have just moved to, she said.

"I try to get out more. For almost a year I couldn't do much or go many places. I'm going to make up for it," she said.

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