Support & Survivorship Programs Were Key in Breast Cancer Patient’s Recovery

Your Health | one month ago

Support & Survivorship Programs Were Key in Breast Cancer Patient’s Recovery

Levine Cancer Institute breast cancer patient Cynthia Brooks says LCI’s supportive services like counseling, nutrition coaching and massage therapy helped her stay positive and encouraged during her intense cancer treatment regimen.

Cynthia Brooks, 63, first discovered a lump in her underarm during a self-exam in February 2020, just after she had relocated from Virginia to North Carolina. 

The lump felt like a small round area that was hard as a marble,” says Cynthia. “It didn’t hurt, but it scared me, and I knew I needed to make an appointment immediately to see my doctor.” 

Cynthia gets a mammogram every year around February and was due for her yearly appointment when she discovered the lump. She returned to Virginia to see her long-term physician, who referred her for a sonogram ultrasound. 

A week later, she underwent a biopsy. A week after that, she got the call that she had breast cancerER-negative, PR-negative, HER2-positive invasive mammary carcinoma.

“I never thought I’d be diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Cynthia. “It doesn’t run in my family, but I’ve learned it isn’t necessarily genetic. I’ve always taken care of myself and was very picky about the foods I ate, and I don’t smoke or drink. I thought I’d done everything right. For me to get breast cancer was a total shock.” 

Finding the right breast cancer care team  

While still in Virginia, Cynthia met with her new North Carolina-based primary care provider for a virtual appointment to discuss next steps

“She told me that her mother had had stage IV cancer and went to Levine Cancer Institute for treatment and she’s fine today,” says Cynthia. “She asked if I would consider returning to North Carolina for treatment.” 

Cynthia immediately agreed. 

“Then I went into my room, prayed and said to myself, ‘You have to fight,’” she says. 

When Cynthia returned to North Carolina, she met with multiple oncologists at Levine Cancer Institute and other cancer centers to determine who would be the right fit for her care. She ultimately chose Levine Cancer Institute medical oncologist Dr. Lane Hellner, and (now retired) surgical oncologist Dr. Terry Sarantou. Their Pineville location was a bonus since she lives in Waxhaw. 

“I couldn’t have picked a greater team,” says Cynthia. 

Starting breast cancer treatment 

Cynthia began breast cancer treatment in June 2020, right in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says the isolation from social distancing was difficult, though she had a friend who took her to appointments and stayed with her for a few days after each infusion. She also had a neighbor who would assist when her friend could not be there.

Cynthia focused on staying encouraged and positive throughout treatment.

“I had to keep myself encouraged, and I did,” she says. “I put on my lipstick and earrings, and even when I lost my hair, I told myself I was still beautiful.” 

Delois DeShazo, RN, BSN, an oncology breast nurse navigator at LCI, says she was impressed by Cynthia’s drive and motivation.

“She runs an assisted living facility in Virginia, and, although it was tough at times, she was able to manage everything remotely,” says DeShazo. “She received most of her care at our LCI-Pineville location, but we continued to communicate. We often spoke about her making it to the other side and sharing her story. She was not going to give up.”  

Going through chemotherapy

Not long after starting chemotherapy, Cynthia developed gallstones and needed emergency surgery to remove her gallbladder. She resumed chemotherapy after she healed from surgery. Chemotherapy caused many side effects. 

“Chemo made me so sick,” she says. 

Cynthia didn’t have much appetite and her weight dropped from 157 pounds to 108 pounds. 

“I also had sores in my mouth and all of the nasty side effects of chemo,” she says. “But I kept pushing through it.” 

In October 2020, Cynthia rang the bell at LCI to signify her completion of chemotherapy. She then underwent a lumpectomy and breast reduction in November 2020.  

After surgery, Cynthia started to regain her appetite and energy. She then began six weeks of radiation therapy. Overall, radiation therapy went smoothly, though she developed fatigue during the final two weeks of treatment. She completed radiation therapy in February 2021. 

“It was only by my faith and the grace of God that I was able to go through the chemo and radiation and keep a positive mindset, she says.

Healing and support during cancer treatment 

Throughout her treatment, Cynthia utilized Levine Cancer Institute’s many supportive services, including counseling, massage therapy, nutrition coaching, an exercise program for breast cancer survivors and the lymphedema clinic.

“Going through treatment was a traumatic experience,” says Cynthia. “But I was so tuned in to being the best person I could be during the treatment. I did not want cancer to define who I am. I wanted to define it.

She also joined the Pink House in Charlotte, a respite center for breast cancer survivors and connected with a group of fellow survivors.

“We get together once a month to go to dinner and celebrate birthdays,” she says. “It’s been wonderful.”

Looking to the future 

Cynthia says while her breast cancer diagnosis changed her life forever, she’s become a stronger person

“Breast cancer is part of my life and history now,” she says. “I’m adjusting to it, but I’m not bitter. I’ve become a different, better, more appreciative me. I thank God for every moment I have alive and being a breast cancer survivor.

Learn more about breast cancer care at Levine Cancer Institute