Breast Cancer Patient Stories
During a routine physical in June of 2015, 50-year-old Jenifer E. Thorn, PhD, a Program Director in Sports Medicine at Keiser University, wasn’t thinking about the possibility of breast cancer. Just eight months prior she had a routine mammogram that came back negative, so she was shocked when her primary care physician found a lump.
Jenifer was sent to Radiology Associates for follow up testing where she found out she had breast cancer.
“A million things run through your head when you hear something like this. I was particularly concerned that I had no family history of cancer, so I researched everything I could and requested a second opinion,” said Jenifer.
One of Jenifer’s friends was a breast cancer survivor and recommended she look into Moffitt Cancer Center.
“My family lived in Tampa, so Moffitt Cancer Center seemed like a natural fit. I sent them my biopsy from Radiology Associates and went through ct scans, bone scans and an MRI. They concluded I had Stage IIB triple positive breast cancer.”
For most large, node positive “triple positive” (hormone receptor and HER2 receptor expressing) breast cancer patients, chemotherapy is recommended prior to surgery. Jenifer decided to start chemotherapy at Moffitt.
Working 40 hours a week, on top of the long drive from Tallahassee to Tampa to receive chemotherapy, Jenifer was becoming physically and mentally exhausted. She knew she needed to start looking into other options.
“I was extremely blessed with an amazing support system from my family and friends as well as the administration, faculty and staff at Keiser University. However the long drive to and from treatment started to take its toll. I felt it was important to have a local medical oncologist to help me address chemotherapy side effects and potential emergencies.”
At Tallahassee Memorial’s Cancer Center, Jenifer was seen by Karen Russell, MD, FACP, Hematologist/Oncologist.
“I thought she was the greatest,” said Jenifer. “When we met we connected instantly. She has this passion for helping her patients and making us feel like everything will be all right. On top of this passion, she also has research experience and knew the best treatments for my type of breast cancer.”
Each time Jenifer would return back from her trips to Tampa, Dr. Russell would see her for follow up care.
“My first few treatments at Moffitt went well, however after my fifth infusion, I just started feeling different. I became severely dehydrated and went to the Tallahassee Memorial Bixler Trauma & Emergency Center for fluids.”
A week later, Jenifer started to feel bad again and contacted the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center. After speaking with Dr. Russell’s nurse, she was advised to go to the hospital to be admitted for monitoring. Dr. Russell came by to check on Jenifer and found she was severely dehydrated and needed fluids, in addition to a blood transfusion.
In an instant, Jenifer went from being simply dehydrated to needing emergency surgery. She started vomiting blood and Dr. Russell and a team of physicians gathered together to make decisions about her treatment. Quick tests showed Jenifer had a major artery rupture in her small intestine.
Jenifer had emergency surgery by Eliot Sieloff, MD, General Surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. She spent four days in the intensive care unit followed by three additional days in the hospital for recovery.
“If I had not been at TMH getting fluids, I would not be here today. I knew I was at the right place at the right time. Dr. Russell has saved my life more than once and I am forever grateful.”
Once she was healed, Jenifer had a bilateral mastectomy in Tampa where 29 lymph nodes were removed and returned home to Tallahassee to begin radiation therapy treatments.
“I remember sitting with Dr. Russell at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center going over my treatment options for radiation. I told her, I have enormous trust and confidence in her as my medical oncologist and that I would leave it to her to see who whom I should see as my radiation oncologist at TMH.”
Dr. Russell recommended Philip Sharp, MD, Radiation Oncologist at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center.
“Dr. Sharp and I connected instantly too, as he answered my 100 questions during the initial consult. He would go through his routine physical with me to make sure I was doing well and then we would talk football or Harry Potter. It was great to have a bond with my radiation oncologist and at the same time, feel incredibly confident with the care he provided.”
Jenifer’s days became routine for the next month. Receiving radiation every day for 34 days, she would go to work and then end her afternoon at the Cancer Center with a team that had turned into family.
“Coming from a place like Moffitt which is a larger facility, it’s a relief to be at a place like TMH where it’s much more intimate. I had a relationship with every single person who worked there. Everyone knew my name and was so positive. It was really uplifting knowing that receiving treatment is the toughest part of the journey.”
About half way through her treatment on March 2, Jenifer celebrated a birthday. She knew just how she wanted to spend her special day.
“I was sitting in the radiation waiting room all dressed in my gown ready for treatment with this huge cake on my lap. The tech asked what the cake was for and I told her it was my birthday. My thinking was -- what better way to celebrate than have a piece of cake with my ‘rad buddies?’ Nurses, doctors and radiation techs all gathered around and we enjoyed the cake together. It was something I will never forget.”
Throughout her journey, Jenifer can reflect on the outstanding care she was provided at Tallahassee Memorial as well as the love and support of family and friends.
“My mantra throughout this entire journey was to have hope and believe in the process. For I knew God’s plan for me was hope and a bright future. My belief in Dr. Russell and Dr. Sharp at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center was part of the process and I had confidence that I would be a breast cancer survivor.”
TMH is happy to report Jenifer is cancer free but will still be in the halls of the Cancer Center helping others with her new dog Hope, named after her treatment mantra, who she will have trained to become part of the Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy program.
For someone who had been biopsied and had benign lumps tested and removed regularly, Lisa Vince was shocked when she felt like this time it was completely different.
This time her lump was slightly larger than before, about the size of a marble, and came with consistent throbbing pain that burned. She immediately called her primary care physician. After a mammogram and ultrasound, Lisa was referred to Tim Ruark, MD, General Surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare for a core biopsy.
It was June 2014 when everything changed. The results were in and Lisa was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer -- about 80% of all breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinomas.
“I received Dr.Ruark’s call late afternoon/early evening. I insisted he tell me then. My heart stopped for a moment, I couldn’t breathe. I froze, collected myself, thought about it and knew right then I was determined to fight this battle, stay strong for my family and friends and remain positive. Dr. Ruark was so thorough and I appreciated him taking his time to really explain everything to me.”
After reviewing her options for a potential lumpectomy -- surgery to remove the cancer or abnormal tissue from the breast -- or a double mastectomy -- where both breasts are removed -- and with her history of regular lumps in mind, Lisa decided to go with a double mastectomy.
On August 5, 2014, Lisa went in for her double mastectomy and to prepare for reconstruction, performed by Dr. Ruark and Alfredo Paredes, MD, Plastic Surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. The procedure started with tissue expanders, an empty breast implant that will be filled with saline over a period of time, this process slowly stretches your skin to allow for the implants.
“Dr. Paredes is a perfectionist. I felt so confident in his care and everything he did for me was absolutely perfect. I could not have asked for a more perfect surgical team. Prior to surgery I heard the general surgeons and plastic surgeons work well together and they really do. They make a great team.”
After her procedure, Lisa was referred by Dr. Ruark to the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, where she met with Philip Sharp, MD, Radiation Oncologist.
“Dr. Sharp was spot on. He explained my results, told me what everything meant so I could understand. He is very personable and when I left my appointment with him I felt like we were old friends.”
It was determined during her first meeting with Dr. Sharp that she wouldn’t need radiation so he sent her upstairs at the Cancer Center to meet with her Medical Oncologist, Iman Imanirad, MD.
“Dr. Imanirad is truly amazing. He’s so knowledgeable and he knows I’m a visual learner so during my appointments he would pull my scans or results up on a screen and walk me through everything, step by step. I remember my first appointment I left feeling like he knew everything about me – it was apparent he had studied my case and didn’t miss a beat.”
Lisa continued with chemotherapy for 4 months and although she did experience common symptoms of feeling tired and lacking energy, she progressed well until one day when she arrived at work.
“I remember getting out of my car and struggling to walk from my car to the office. My first thought was the chemotherapy must have taken a toll on me, however when I started having trouble breathing, I called Dr. Imanirad. He contacted me back immediately and after hearing my condition he advised that I go straight to the ER. He wanted me to get a CT scan and have them check for potential blood clots in my lungs. Thank goodness I called him because he was right.”
Sure enough, Lisa had blood clots in her lungs. She was hospitalized for three days and put on a blood thinner for the next six months. This bump in the road put her surgical procedures on hold but Lisa continued on.
Once she was well, Lisa went in for the final surgical procedure with Dr. Paredes, where they would take out her expanders and put her implants in. Months later, she opted for Dr. Paredes to perform nipple construction and fat grafting to improve the natural appearance of her breasts.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought I would be going through this. God gave me pretty cute breasts, cancer convinced me to remove them and Dr. Paredes replaced them with some pretty darn good looking ones.”
With breast cancer behind her, Lisa spends her time with the Joanna Francis Living Well Foundation and Chrome Divas Group. She looks forward taking time off to travel with her husband, George, and even looks back on her experience at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center with only positive memories.
“After I was cleared by my doctors, I would find myself going back to the Cancer Center just to sit in their outdoor healing garden. It was just such a comforting environment that I felt withdrawals and it made me happy to get that sense of comfort back. It eased my mind to know that I was never alone.”
Life was good. At the age of 57, Laurie Black was a new grandmother and avid sports fan enjoying every bit of life. Between spending time with her new granddaughter and working for their family-owned business, Laurie was so busy she hadn’t realized she was overdue for her regular mammogram.
“I was six months late and even though I had yearly mammograms since I was in my forties, this time I was just so busy,” said Laurie.
With no pain, no change in shape or discoloration, Laurie wouldn’t have even thought about it but she described an “odd” feeling when she performed her routine self-breast checks.
This questionable concern is what led her to get her mammogram. Within days, she received a call from the radiologist. They wanted to give her an ultrasound-guided biopsy. The results turned her concern into reality — Laurie was diagnosed with HER2+ breast cancer.
“My whole world was rocked. It was the last thing I expected to hear. My husband, John, and I just sat quietly together and absorbed the information. Once things settled down, I started making phone calls to family and friends.”
Laurie was referred by her primary care physician to Robert Snyder, MD, General Surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. He discussed the possibility of doing a lumpectomy – or removal of the malignant tissue while conserving the mass and contours of the breast. Before he did anything, he wanted an MRI for a more precise view. Much to Laurie’s surprise, they found another mass, twice the size as the other. They decided together that Laurie would have a double mastectomy in addition to chemotherapy followed by radiation.
“Dr. Snyder is such a kind, warm- hearted person. He listened to everything I had to say, all of my concerns and respected everything I asked. My options were all outlined for me based on my results.”
It was a new day and although still somewhat apprehensive, Laurie faced her diagnosis head on. She pulled up to 1775 One Healing Place – it was a place Laurie had never seen before, one she dreaded to go. As she walked through the sliding glass doors, everything changed.
“I remember the first time I walked through the doors of the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center I was immediately welcomed. It wasn’t like walking into a doctor's office, I felt like I was at someone’s home. I could tell that everyone’s goal was to help me get through this and, just within days, they all knew my name. My initial fear faded and I started to feel much better.”
Laurie started her experience at the Cancer Center by meeting with Karen Russell, MD, FACP, Medical Oncologist to review her customized plan of care.
“When I first met Dr. Russell, we sat and got to know each other while talking through my treatments. I shared I was a big football fan and also explained I wanted to learn about my care in the most simplest of terms. I was so impressed when she literally got a pen and paper out and drew my plan of care out into a play diagram. She explained my cancer in football terms and walked me through everything. I just felt like she understood me and I walked away knowing exactly what was going on.”
Neoadjuvant chemotherapy, a type of medicine administered before surgery, was provided through a port, or small implanted IV access site in Laurie’s chest. Her chemotherapy lasted for 10 hours at a time, given every three weeks for a period of four and a half months. Her body had a positive response to the medication and allowed her to progress with additional treatment. Laurie was then sent to Ovidiu Marina, MD, Radiation Oncologist, to begin her radiation treatment.
“My radiation was every day for 33 days. For someone who doesn’t like being still... this was the hardest part of my treatment. Dr. Marina encouraged me by sharing all the positive benefits that would come out of this, how it would help lower my chances of reoccurrences. He was such a warm, funny person and I respected how family oriented he was. Plus he had really great style! I just found him to be so relatable.”
Thrown a true curveball, Laurie reflects on the life lessons she learned along the way.
“My cancer journey looked daunting at first, but looking back on it, because of the support from my family and physicians, it was very doable. Throughout this experience I have learned that tomorrow isn’t promised and it’s important to live in the moment. I spend more time with my family and continue to be kind to everyone I meet. It’s so nice to know you can get the most advanced cancer care right here in Tallahassee through the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center. I want other people to know you do not have to leave home to seek treatment. We have the best care right here.”
Laurie will continue her cancer journey with breast reconstruction performed by Alfredo Paredes, MD, Plastic Surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. Once her reconstruction is complete, Laurie looks forward to living her life as fully as she can.
Abby Bender Kirkland
It was May 20. The night before her annual gynecological exam. 39 year old Abby Bender Kirkland knew Dr. Vikki McKinnie, OBGYN would ask if she had performed self-breast checks over the past year. Since she had completely forgot to do this, and so she wouldn’t have to lie, Abby went ahead and checked herself. Knowing she had her annual mammogram seven months prior and the results were normal, Abby wasn’t concerned. However, much to her surprise, she found a dime-size lump under her nipple in the right breast.
The next morning, Abby shared her discovery with Dr. McKinnie.
Taking Abby’s medical history into consideration, Dr. McKinnie reviewed all possibilities and causes for the lump. Knowing that Abby had a former endometrial ablation – a procedure that destroys the uterine lining to treat abnormal uterine bleeding – Dr. McKinnie knew it could be difficult to correlate breast tenderness and/or breast changes that can occur each month with a menstrual cycle, as these cycles aren’t regular after a treatment like this. For this exact reason, Abby had not experienced a menstrual cycle since her procedure.
Dr. McKinnie advised they closely monitor the lump over the next few weeks and if there was even the slightest change in size or if she experienced any pain, to be seen immediately.
After one month, the lump was still present and Abby started experiencing discomfort.
“I wasn’t sure if this was all in my head or not,” said Abby. “I contacted Dr. McKinnie’s office to schedule an appointment and also reached out to my primary care physician, Dr. Karl Hempel to be seen by his office as soon as possible.” Luckily ARNP-C Emily Karnik was available to see Abby immediately and did not give up on finding out what her condition was.
Abby was scheduled immediately and went into her primary care office for an appointment. She was then referred to TPCA to get a diagnostic mammogram and sonogram.
Within several days, the results were in and Abby was diagnosed with a clogged duct, which could be treated by antibiotics. She was also referred to Richard Zorn, MD, General Surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare.
“My first impression was Dr. Zorn was so kind and made me feel very comfortable,” said Abby. “He examined me and stated he felt I had intraductal papilloma’s, a benign breast condition, and I could remove them for peace of mind.”
Surgery to remove the benign tumors was scheduled for early September 2014. During her surgery, Dr. Zorn discovered something that would change Abby’s life.
“Dr. Zorn told my husband he found suspicious areas in my breast and he decided to perform an emergency pathology evaluation. It was determined I had invasive ductal carcinoma.“
Invasive ductal carcinoma is a common form of breast cancer, which starts in the milk ducts and accounts for about 80% of breast cancers in women and 90% in men.
When Abby woke from her surgery, her husband shared what he had learned. She had breast cancer.
“That ride home was the most blurred memory. Having to go home and tell my daughters was by far the most difficult part of this process. We called family and friends and explained the diagnosis. Many were in shock to say the least.”
The following day, Abby received a call from Dr. Zorn with his recommendation for a single or double mastectomy.
“Because I am a worrier by nature, we decided on a double mastectomy,” said Abby. “Dr. Zorn explained we could decide which plastic surgeon we want and to just let him know. There was a sense of comfort for me having Dr. Zorn call me each time personally. That first week after diagnosis was so stressful waiting for answers as in stage, cancer type etc. Each piece of news my husband and I received, we researched and became experts. We rejoiced when we were told my situation and stage was the most curable of breast cancers.”
In addition to her double mastectomy, Abby had decided to move forward with reconstruction. The physician she collectively decided on with Dr. Zorn was plastic surgeon, Ben J. Kirbo, MD.
“My husband and I went and met with Dr. Kirbo, who was highly recommended by other physicians and by friends of mine. We reviewed all of my options for reconstruction and decided the best option was to do it at the time of the mastectomy.”
Once scheduled for surgery, Abby was also referred to receive chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center.
“Knowing you are walking into a Cancer Center to receive chemotherapy is about intense as it gets emotionally. I remember feeling like this can’t be real, and can’t really be happening to me. Immediately when you walk in, you’re greeted by many smiling faces, which reminds you that you are human. Dr. Imanirad had the same smile, and along with his willingness to hear us out and take his time with us, we knew we had made the right selection for my oncologist.”
Dr. Iman Imanirad, hematologist/oncologist at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center met with Abby to review her plan of care. After reviewing her results, he shared that she had a highly treatable form of breast cancer and her care should be fairly quick.
Like any new patient at the Cancer Center, Abby was also introduced to her patient navigator, Dreama Taylor. Patient navigators are a complimentary support service provided to all patients at the facility. They provide each patient with a trusted confidante from pre-diagnosis all the way to returning to a normal life after cancer.
“I remember my first chemotherapy session,” said Abby. “I was so nervous but Dreama showed me the infusion room where I would receive treatment and explained exactly what I could expect. I was put at ease.”
After just one month of chemotherapy, Abby was sent downstairs at the Cancer Center to receive radiation treatment with Raj Bendre, MD, Medical Director, TMH Physician Partners - Radiation Oncology Specialists.
“Nurse Yolanda was the first to get me from the waiting room to meet with Dr. Bendre. Following with the rest of the staff at the Cancer Center, she was so delightful and made me feel at ease. When Dr. Bendre entered the room he seemed to know my entire medical records. We discussed the best options for me and he seemed to know every case study regarding my type of cancer. Knowing Dr. Bendre and Dr. Imanirad were my oncology team made me feel much more secure. I was then taken to the radiation room to meet the technicians who would be working with me daily for the next 7 weeks. I instantly felt a connection to all three of them and knew I was in good hands.”
As of January 2015, Abby was declared cancer free. Having returned to full health, giving back became her mission. With much involvement in the community, she wants to remind everyone about the importance of self examinations and regular doctor appointments.
“My attitude in life has surely shifted to being more accepting of what God’s plan is for me. This very crazy journey was filled with every emotion possible. Seeing the love I received from so many people made me truly understand my meaning to others. Today I work hard to give back to those who need to feel that same love during such a difficult time.”
For 10 years prior to her diagnosis, Ines Orozco had annual mammograms due to multiple cysts in her breasts. With normal results, that all changed in June of 2012. A few weeks prior, Ines felt a lump in her left breast that was not quite the same as what she had previously experienced. This lump was hard and somewhat painful. She mentioned this to her OB/GYN who immediately sent her for a mammogram and biopsy. The result was positive, there was a small tumor that showed cancerous cells. Her doctor recommended she get a lumpectomy and referred her to an oncologist and a surgeon. She then began working with the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center and Amit Jain, MD, Hematologist/Oncologist, and Tim Ruark, MD, Surgeon at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Jain sent her for an MRI and other testing where she was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). These tests also showed several other tumors growing on her left breast. Because of the number of tumors, Dr. Ruark recommended a mastectomy. In July 2012, she had a mastectomy with a node biopsy and it was determined that the cancer was localized and had not spread.
After the biopsy results came back, Dr. Jain shared with Ines that her cancer was in fact HER2 positive, one of the most aggressive breast cancers today. He suggested that she receive an intensive six-cycle chemotherapy treatment, along with weekly Herceptin. In addition, she went through six weeks of radiation treatment.
She did well through the chemotherapy treatments, however the radiation caused several nodules that appeared on her lungs. Dr. Jain immediately sent her to Forrest R. Dolly, MD, Pulmonologist who was able to treat and heal the nodules.
Ines is now a survivor. She has found her freedom again and spends her time listening to music, taking walks with her husband, spending time with her grandchildren and going to church.
For much of the time that Sydrena Osborne has been a mom, she had also been engrossed in a fight against breast cancer, and young daughter Sydney was been by her side through it all.
“She was in preschool when my battle with cancer began, and I decided I couldn’t hide it from her. She was there when I was diagnosed and when I opened my eyes after having a double mastectomy,” said Sydrena.
While many might shy away from talking about cancer, for Sydrena, being open about her condition was crucial, especially in relation to Sydney.
“She knows everything about my treatment; she saw the scars, tubes and reconstruction. I think it’s so important to be open, because she understood what I was experiencing and why I was limited,” Sydrena says.
Initially, the journey to remission led Sydrena through not only a double mastectomy at Tallahassee Memorial, but also chemotherapy. When the cancer returned a year-and-a-half later, Sydrena underwent aggressive radiation treatment at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center.
“The second time I was diagnosed, I was more afraid,” she says, “but the way the physicians at the Cancer Center worked together made me feel like everyone knew me and my specific situation. Now I feel 100 percent better and trust that the right decisions were made about my treatment.”
Today, Sydrena is cancer free and while she will continue to manage her risk of breast cancer with a lifelong medication regimen, cancer no longer keeps her from doing what matters most in her life, spending time with her daughter.
The fight against breast cancer has long been a passionate subject for survivor Claire Harrison and her family.
“My mom had breast cancer in 1973, I battled cancer for the first time in 2002, and my sister-in-law, Sharon Ewing Walker, died of cancer in 2005,” Claire explains.
With the loss of Sharon, Claire’s family was determined to invest in local cancer care by helping to establish the Sharon Ewing Walker Breast Health Center. Since that time, they have continued to actively support the area’s cancer services. Claire’s brother, Claude Walker, serves on the Tallahassee Memorial Foundation Board and the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center Fund-raising steering Committee, and their mother, Maye Walker, leads the volunteer group that cares for the center’s outdoor Healing Garden. Last year, their efforts proved to be a source of support not only to the community, but also for one of their own.
After 10 years of being cancer free, Claire had a routine mammogram that revealed some suspicious calcifications. Debilitated by a severe ankle injury at the time, she was unable to have a diagnostic mammotome for several months. When the test was performed, she found she was battling cancer again and would need a full mastectomy, chemotherapy, and long-term treatment with medication.
Claire was referred to Tim Broeseker, MD, Hematologist/Oncologist, and began chemotherapy treatments in Tallahassee Memorial’s main hospital building where she had received radiation therapy throughout her first battle with cancer. In mid-July 2012, services expanded at the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, allowing Claire to receive all of her remaining treatments in the new space.
“The Cancer Center is cheerful and offers more privacy during treatments, which puts you in a better state of mind. My physician and everyone else I have come into contact with at the Cancer Center have been absolutely fantastic,” she says.
After a total of 18 months spent healing from her ankle injury and undergoing extensive cancer treatment, Claire was eager to get back to one of her favorite pastimes -- horseback riding. “It feels like a million bucks to be horseback riding again,” she says.
Having returned to her hobbies and full health, Claire has also inspired another generation in her family to rally in the fight against breast cancer.
“When you go through something like this, it really pulls your family together. My family was great and that really is the silver lining,” says Claire.
A wife and mother, Dawn Brown had lived a healthy life until everything changed in 2011. Dawn discovered a painful lump in her breast and intuition told her to get multiple tests done. Once her results came in, it was confirmed, Dawn had breast cancer.
“Once I was diagnosed, I remember looking at my three year old daughter and thinking, this just isn’t an option. From then on out I considered it a job and my main goal was to beat cancer,” said Dawn.
After being referred to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, where she saw Tim Broeseker, MD, Hematologist/Oncologist and Robert Snyder, MD, General Surgery, Dawn was provided with treatment options for her condition. Following diagnosis, Dawn had a double mastectomy and completed six months of chemotherapy, four months of radiation followed by breast reconstruction.
“Dr. Broeseker and his nurses were phenomenal,” said Dawn. “Not only did he take great care of me, but he would also check in to see how my family was and anytime I needed something, he was immediately on it.”
Celebrating life now that she is cancer free, Dawn enjoys volunteering, spending time with family and being a mom. With a love of fashion, she also takes part in fundraising fashion shows and events with the Joanna Francis Living Well Foundation that allow her to help other cancer survivors.
When asked about her experience, Dawn said, “The positive thing that has come from this is it has made me be a much more effective person. I give everything I have to be a great mom.”
In April 2010, Gail McDonald had a routine mammogram and to her surprise, the results required additional testing. Once testing was complete, her suspicions were true; Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Gail was referred to Tallahassee Memorial, where she received treatment from Philip Sharp, MD, Radiation Oncologist.
“Dr. Sharp and the entire cancer team were not only kind and supportive, but they were equally understanding,” said Gail. “No matter what the circumstance and in the toughest of times, Dr. Sharp always found a way to make me smile. I have nothing but positive things to say about Tallahassee Memorial.”
In addition to her medical team, Gail remained strong thanks to her family, husband, Neil, brother, Larry and her colleagues at Allegro Senior Living.
“During my treatment at Tallahassee Memorial, I felt that I was not alone,” said Gail. “The physicians provide continuous education and support for their patients. They even give you a booklet full of resources and helpful information to reference when you’re not at the cancer center.”
With the diagnosis behind her, Gail is overjoyed to regain her freedom once again. She is getting back to the things that she loves most, like cruising the back roads on her motorcycle with her husband and cheering for her favorite football team, the Miami Dolphins.
“This experience has taught me to seize the moment,” said Gail. “I have started a bucket list of things I would like to do and I'm looking forward to my bright future.”
Elementary school teacher, Kelli Dillon, had trained and completed the November 2013 Iron Man Triathlon just three months before her annual mammogram, where it was discovered she had breast cancer.
“When they found my lump, I was sent for a biopsy and MRI that same week,” said Kelli. “As I waited for the results, I mentally prepared myself for the diagnosis.”
Almost immediately, Kelli was sent to the Tallahassee Memorial Cancer Center, where she received treatment from Iman Imanirad, MD, Hematologist/Oncologist.
“I can’t say enough positive things about Dr. Imanirad and the entire Cancer Center team. He provided me with options, while also being flexible with my treatment schedule, which allowed me to continue with my life as usual,” said Kelli. “I was extremely confident in my care.”
Before, during and after her experience, Kelli had an incredible support system through Tallahassee Memorial and additionally, in her personal life. Family members, friends, her “Can’t Stop Wont Stop” running group, the Gulf Winds Triclub community and her school, DeSoto Trail Elementary were all by her side.
“The entire school was there for me,” said Kelli. “My principal, Michele Keltner was such an incredible support system. I will never forget the day I shared the news, she personally called me that night to offer her help and assistance. Michele gave me strength and took such great care of me when I needed it the most.”
Now cancer free, Kelli continues to teach, spend time with her husband, Bill, their daughter, grandchildren and dogs, while continuing to stay healthy and train for future triathlons.
“I have a second chance at life,” said Kelli. “ I want others to know how important it is to go to your doctor and most importantly, that a strong support system is everything.”