PIQUA — She chooses life — and wants other women to do the same.
Diana Thompson wants to share her personal journey of breast cancer — especially this month during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — as a cautionary tale to women to get their mammograms and be proactive about their own health.
Thompson already was mourning the loss of her sister just last August to breast cancer, while continuing to support one of her best friends who has suffered with Stage 4 breast cancer for nine years.
Then she got the call that would change her life and her outlook on it.
“I got a call on a Wednesday. That’s when I was told I had breast cancer. They did not yet know what kind. So, I was at work, and I walked into my office, and I bawled my eyes out,” said Thompson, the executive director of the Miami County Visitors & Convention Bureau.
“I actually texted (her significant other) Dan because I couldn’t talk, and told him to come home.”
After just having had a mammogram in November 2015, Thompson noticed a bloody discharge coming from the nipple of her right breast earlier this year. She gave it a week to clear up, but it didn’t.
“So I immediately made an appointment the following week with my family doctor and she became a pit bull about it,” Thompson said. “She said it could be something as benign as an infection, but it could be breast cancer, and she said, ‘We are going to put 200 percent behind this to find out exactly what is going on.’”
Soon thereafter, she had yet another mammogram, and it did come back as something — but inconclusive — which started an entire battery of testing, including an ultrasound, MRI and two biopsies.
Thompson subsequently was diagnosed with Ductal carcinoma in citu (DCIS), a non-invasive cancer in which abnormal cells have been found in the lining of the breast milk duct. The atypical cells had not spread outside of the ducts into the surrounding breast tissue, which was the best possible news.
“It was contained in the milk ducts of my right breast and did not break through, so it was considered stage zero because of that,” said Thompson, who said she then learned that DCIS is highly treatable, but if left untreated or undetected, can spread.
After research and a suggestion from her dentist, Thompson chose The Samaritan Breast Center at Good Samaritan North Health Center to further her treatment.
“They are like a dog with a bone. They just keep testing and making sure they are getting to the bottom of everything,” she said.
The Piqua resident was told surgery was necessary; at that point, the recommendation was to have a mastectomy. The surgeon said with DCIS, there is approximately a 30 percent chance of cancer returning in the other breast in the future, and suggested that Thompson might want to have a double mastectomy.
Thompson also went through genetic testing that she qualified for based on a family history of breast cancer, to detect mutations in her BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which increased her desire to have the double mastectomy, much like actress Angelina Jolie, she said.
“At that point, I told her I would really have to put some thought into that, but ultimately decided to do so. I am 62 years old. I didn’t in five or 10 years, when I’m even older, want to go through what I’m going through now, again,” Thompson siad. “I wanted to do it all at one time and be done with it.”
In August, Thompson went through a successful three-hour surgery during which both of her breasts were removed. Following up on her case, a committee of surgeons at Good Samaritan North determined she would need neither chemotherapy nor radiation.
“I only had a few moments of a meltdown one day about the the removal of my breasts. For the most part, I was okay with it because I just saw it as a surgery. It was all those other things I didn’t want to have to have.”
Following the mastectomy, Thompson decided to have reconstructive surgery, for two reasons — vanity being one of them, she admitted.
“I just want to be back to the way I am,” said Thompson, her eyes welling with tears.
The other was the discomfort of the prostheses she now wears as her process continues. She said they are neither comfortable nor convenient.
Today, Thompson still has tissue expanders in place, and goes weekly to have saline injected into the expanders in preparation for her implants to be put in place. The process becomes more painful after each time — and she’s only halfway through the eight-visit procedure. The size of her implants will be determined based on the void left from the removal of her breasts, she said.
The whole point of telling her story, according to Thompson, is to implore women to get their mammograms. She said she already has reached several friends and colleagues.
“There’s always something to take care of. We are all really bad about taking care of everything and everyone but ourselves. If DCIS is common, and then look at all the other types of breast cancers out there … I consider myself a very fortunate person not to have had to gone through what many friends, family and so many women have to go through. But it’s still enough for me.”
Thompson said she is now a firm believer in women getting their first mammogram at 40 — when she had her first. She believes the age of 50 is too late.
“We’ve got to get the message out about women getting their mammograms, and staying on schedule,” Thompson said. “Things can change so quickly, and if you let it get out of hand, and you find you have breast cancer … it’s the difference between life and death for people.
“And we all choose life.”
Reach Melody Vallieu at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 552-2131.