Brenda Depner, Medford

Cancer survivors tell their stories in their own words

My experience has made me passionate about helping other women going through breast cancer in any way I can. I feel so good when I can put a smile on someone else's face when I say, "Look at me. I had Stage 3 breast cancer, worked at my job and worked out at the gym through treatment and I am doing great today, four years later."

Kathy Parara, Shady Cove

I had no idea that having dense breast tissue would lead me to having 13 "normal" mammograms and the illusion that I was "home free" in regard to breast cancer. My extremely dense breast tissue hid an eight- to 10-year-old invasive tumor in one breast and three smaller tumors in the other. While a digital mammogram and keen-eyed radiologist spotted abnormalities with the giant tumor, the other three would have never been felt or seen. During my recovery, I have had the opportunity with key folks in the state of Oregon to enact change in state law. I am proud to report that as of Jan. 1, 2014, doctors must inform women of their breast density. Forty percent of all women between the ages of 40 to 50 have dense tissue. A combination of mammography and ultrasound gives a woman a 98-percent chance of detection. Now I am doing everything in my power to share my story with others to save even one life.

This past May, I had my first mammogram as recommended for baseline screening. After several follow-up tests, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am a 41-year-old who has zero, I mean zero, history of breast cancer on either side of my family. Four months later, after surgery and radiation therapy, I am cancer-free. This battle put things in perspective and reminded me of the really important things in life. Each day is a blessing that I truly appreciate. I urge women to have their mammograms. Because I never had a lump, the combination of early detection and a lot of luck, grace and mercy, my cancer was found at Stage 1; easily treatable, curable and beatable.

Susanne McLaughlin, Medford

1995 — what a year! My first grandchild was due in September by my oldest daughter, and I found out in August that I had breast cancer. My youngest daughter was in high school, and she was my "rock." Working at Kaiser Permanente, we formed a team, "Sue's Bust @ Co.," and for the next 15 years we did the Race for the Cure. Now, 18 years later, my grandson will graduate and I am still in remission! My outlook words are "hope" that a cure will be found before my granddaughter grows up; "faith," everyone has their own belief to get through; and "strength." As a team, we can cure it!

I was diagnosed with breast cancer 48 years ago and have been cancer-free since then. My sons were 2 and 4 years old at the time. Through the years I began to believe that God had a plan for me. My husband and I raised our granddaughter, and I have been able to give back to my community through volunteering. I thank God each day for my life and am aware how precious each day is. I had wonderful support from my husband, family and friends through the years. I have been truly blessed.

A year ago this month, October 2012, I received the diagnosis that I had breast cancer. So I am very emotional this October. There were tests, more tests, and decisions for me and my doctors to make. Due to high deductible insurance, I chose to wait until January 2013 to have my mastectomy. Prior to surgery, I visited a breast cancer support group to talk to women who had experienced what I would go through. I have the support of family, friends and fellow survivors who are my blessings in this journey. And today I am a survivor. I want to be alive to celebrate a cure for cancer, because I know it is a matter of when, not if.

Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. I had months of treatments, which gave me a lot of time to focus on what lessons I could learn through this journey in my life, starting with, "Who am I without breasts or hair?" I learned who I am has nothing to do with breasts or hair. I am a child of God! I learned that I was loved and cared about by an "army" who prayed for me and gave me amazing support. I learned each day is a gift and to truly embrace life and to appreciate all of the people in my life. God is good, and I want to be the best I can be to glorify him and appreciate that I am cancer-free.

Forty-nine years ago, in 1964, I had a Halstead Radical Mastectomy (removal of all the breast tissue, lymph glands and pectoral muscle). It changed my life in that I devoted more than 25 years, in both California and Oregon, to the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program for breast cancer patients, visiting them soon after surgery and demonstrating to them that life goes on and can be just as fulfilling as before, if not more so. It gives one an awareness of how precious this gift is and how unimportant some physical attributes may be. I'm now 92 and fortunately haven't had a recurrence.

As a 13-year cancer survivor with no more "evidence of disease," I know that I will always be living with the cancer experience. It guides me toward a vision of wellness that I can work toward for the rest of my life. I can focus on my physical, emotional, spiritual and social health — by being active, doing yoga, writing, teaching, telling my story and spending time with family and friends. Through these activities, I can define how I live my life. With this vision of wellness, I can create a rich life as I "live with cancer."

My younger sister died from breast cancer in 1996 at the age of 42. Ever since then, I had been very vigilant to get my mammogram every year. In 2008, I lost my job due to the company being sold. With my new job I took a cut in pay. I still had health insurance but I did not get any mammograms after that until at the end of June 2012, when I felt a lump in my breast. I had surgery on Aug. 15 of that year. It seemed like a long time between finding the lump and the surgery. All I wanted was to get it out, but there were other tests to run. They got the cancer in time before it spread to the lymph nodes and through the rest of my body. Being triple negative, a very aggressive breast cancer, I opted to get chemo in case there were any cells that escaped the surgery. I do not consider myself cured of cancer, nor a survivor. I am just a person living day to day, hoping for the best, which is to be NED — No Evidence of Disease. The rest of my life will be wait and see, aware this can come back at any time ... or not.

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