Breast cancer survivor Debra Daugette said that we often think of cancer as something that only happens on TV or to the other guy, but we never suspect that it could happen to ourselves.
“When they look you in the eye across the table and say, ‘you have cancer’, that’s scary stuff, it makes you think and it’s very sobering,” breast cancer survivor Debra Daugette said.
It was February 10, 2018 when Daugette found a lump in her breast just two years since her last mammogram, and already her tumor had grown to the size of a grape.
Like many people would in 2018, her first reaction was to turn to the internet for information.
“The stats on the internet are very depressing and by the time I got to the doctor for my first consultation, I had it all figured out – I was going to die. The internet said so,” Daugette said.
Daugette was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at 58 years old with no family history of the aggressive disease.
“It’s a marathon and I’m sure it’s the same with any cancer diagnosis that it takes over your life, it takes over your schedule, it takes over your family life,” Daugette said.
Daugette had spent months prior to her diagnosis planning out a dream vacation to Hawaii that she and her husband Bill Daugette would take in March. Doctors tried to accommodate treatment scheduling, but concerns over whether or not it would work out led to her canceling the trip.
“That’s when it finally hit me, I’m not in control of my life any more, and a trip that was all prepaid and took me months to put together, I took the entire trip down in one afternoon … I cried while I did it because it was the dream, one of the big bucket list things,” Daugette said.
Friends in the medical field and survivors helped Daugette make a decision as to which hospital to seek treatment at, ultimately settling on Houston Methodist.
“Literally a month to the day after my diagnosis, I was sitting in the chair getting my first chemo,” Daugette said.
Beginning in March, Daugette received her first treatment of chemotherapy through a portal leading into her heart. Daugette was first administered doxorubicin, better known as “the red devil” for its red coloring, followed by Taxol, attacking the blood vessels in her fingertips and toes. Duagette recalled how her finger tips and toes turned black, lifting and losing one toe nail before learning to ice them in order to stop the blood flow.
“You learn about stuff a lot of times after, and the first dose of Taxol felt like somebody was beating my toe with a hammer,” Daugette said.
Daugette described the therapy as a marathon, not a sprint.
“I would have a chemo treatment on a Monday and you could set a clock to it – the side effects, effected everything that whole week … by Sunday night I felt fine,” Daugette said. “Monday morning, I’m back out working in the yard, mowing the grass, everything is fine, and then the following Monday, boom. A four hour, five hour chemo treatment and then the process starts over again.”
That time was stressful for the entire family and Daugette was fortunate to have friends that reached out, chemo buddies and organizations like the Monday Night Cancer Club.
“This support just started coming out of everywhere and it was just absolutely amazing,” Daugette recalled.
Following four months of chemo therapy ending in June, Daugette had a pathological complete response, which is considered the end point of triple negative breast cancer.
“When you finish chemo, they just say ‘go home and have a good life’ because there is no follow up treatment. It either comes back or it doesn’t,” Daugette said. “It’s hard to get it out of your head that it can come back, it’s hard to get out of your head, ‘I’m good today, but what about tomorrow?’”
Finishing 30 rounds of radiation at the end of October, Daugette and her husband were on a plane to Hawaii for her birthday November 6, and spent 16 days hopping Hawaiian islands, sending postcards from every island to her doctors back home.
Daugette advises for people being diagnosed or going through the cancer process today, to reach out to people who have been there, it helps to talk to someone who has gone through the process.
“I can not stress enough – self exams and get your wellness checks … nobody knows your body like you do, you gotta take care of yourself and be your number one advocate,” Daugette said, also suggesting people research where they go for treatment.
“Every day is a blessing. Every day you get up and it changes your attitude about life,” Daugette said. “Everyday you take it and you’re thankful and you live it and you reach out to those who unfortunately are headed down the same path you did and you hope for the same outcome,” Daugette said.