Profiles in pink
Nearly 4 million women across the U.S. have fought and beaten breast cancer -- including many who work for Huntsville Hospital Health System. For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we spoke to breast cancer suivivors Tehdi Batiz, a registered nurse at Huntsvlle Hospital Tennessee Valley Pain Consultants, and Donna Bentley, a certified health unit coordinator in our Cardiac Care Unit.
What is your role and how long have you been with Huntsville Hospital?
Tehdi: “I am a registered nurse in Pain Management and have worked at Huntsville Hospital for almost 10 years. I have been a nurse a long time and worked at hospitals all over the place: the ER and Post Anesthesia Care Unit were my specialties. I moved to Huntsville in 2012 when my spouse retired from the military and came to work here in the Pain Center. I love to help patients with chronic pain.”
Donna: "I have worked for Huntsville Hospital for 24 years. I am currently a Certified Health Unit Coordinator and Assistant in Cardiac Care Unit I on the 6th floor.“
Tell us about your breast cancer journey.
Tehdi: “I have a family history, so I was very good at keeping up with my annual mammograms. I had my regular mammogram in September 2014 and was called back for an ultrasound and additional images. They gave me the all clear and I was like, 'OK, well I do have a family history as my mother had it.' Still, I was cleared. A few months later, in April 2015, I was laying in bed at night and felt this overwhelming urge to do a self check. I cannot explain the urge, but I did feel a lump in my left breast. I tried not to panic as I had a fibroid removed in my 20s in the same breast and was about to have my monthly cycle, so I waited until after to see if there was any change. There was not, so I saw my primary care physician and they sent me to the breast center for evaluation. Following another mammogram and ultrasound, (breast radiologist) Dr. Libby Shadinger showed me the images. She said it appeared like a shadow and not a definitive tumor. Her recommendation was biopsy or MRI; I chose immediate biopsy. Dr. Shadinger called the very next afternoon with the news that it was invasive ductal carcinoma.
"I was only 44 years old. I cried and fear overwhelmed me. I have two amazing, beautiful daughters, and my youngest was 15 at the time. I wanted to see them grow up and get married and make me a Grandmother. So, I was determined to learn as much as I could and took charge over my care. I saw Sandy Cross at the Breast Center. She was the coordinator at the time and was a true blessing to me. I did research ... eventually learning so much that I have taught classes on breast cancer. I had two genetics tests on the tumor (Oncotype DX and Mammoprint) to see how aggressive it was. I seemed to fall in a gray area and got different opinions as to whether I should do chemo or not. My Oncotype test showed low risk with a score of 17 and was told no chemo needed. But with my type which was ER/PR+, there are two different subtypes: Luminal A and Luminal B. The Oncotype test did not tell me which. In my research, Luminal A was the least aggressive and no chemo was recommended, but with Luminal B all my research showed chemo was recommended.
"So I was conflicted, and my gut was talking to me. I decided to have the Mammoprint genetic test run. Not only will it show you the risk but also the subtype. It came back B, the more aggressive variety. I called my oncologist and told him the result and had him set me up for the port. This was on a Thursday. That Monday morning I was in the surgeon's office, had surgery on Tuesday, and started chemo on Thursday. I did four rounds of Cytoxan and Taxotere, three weeks apart from each other. I continued to work in the Pain Center during my treatment. My biggest thing was staying positive and knowing I did everything I could to make the right decision for me. I was diagnosed as Stage II due to the size of the tumor - 2.6 centimeters with no lymph node spread. I did well through chemo. I had nausea but I dealt with that easily, and fatigue.”
Donna: "In September 2017, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple negative breast cancer. I was devastated and immediately began thinking of everything I would miss if I were to die from this disease. I thought how I would not be able to see my oldest granddaughter drive a car. During this journey, I learned a lot about myself. I pray that by sharing my story it will encourage others who are facing the same diagnosis.
"It began when I felt a lump in my left breast and then realized that I had missed my mammogram appointment earlier in the year. I scheduled an appointment to see my primary care physician, and from there I was sent to the Women's Pavilion (at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children) where biopsies confirmed that it was indeed cancer. I was sent to the Cancer Center and began the process of chemotherapy, lumpectomy and radiation. I often compared how I felt to that metal ball in the pinball machine constantly being shot out into a strange new world of doctors, MRI’s, scans and lab tests. Some of the side effects of the treatments were just as bad as the cancer itself, such as the nightmares, hair loss, mouth sores, joint pain and those days that I couldn’t swallow. There were times when my hands and feet were so sore it was unbearable -- even my nails turned black. I was so afraid they were all going to fall off. I remember days when I couldn’t even get out of bed. But you know what? I kept on praying, and I kept on talking to God -- like David in 1 Samuel chapter 30 of the Bible when the Amalekites took his family, he encouraged himself in the Lord. I had to encourage myself in the Lord. My Faith in Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, gave me strength to keep on going. I would repeat scriptures that I’d memorized to myself. Many times, I would have to remind myself in the middle of the night with tears running down my face: 'God is Good, and He is Faithful.' I was truly inspired by the love of my family and my church family who stayed by my side through hours and hours of treatments and kept me covered in continual prayer."
What advice or words of encouragement do you have for newly diagnosed patients?
Tehdi: “Always get checked on time! Do not skip for any reason and listen to your gut, as it is always right. Do not second guess it. Get as much information as you can from experts, research, friends, relatives. You may get overwhelmed at times, but more information is better than less when it comes to breast cancer. Huntsville Hospital has a great Breast Center with a great team of people to help you, and I encourage anyone to seek their help. Lean on your friends and family and do not be afraid to ask for help. If you work at Huntsville Hospital, please feel free to reach out to me! Stay positive!!!”
Donna: "I would like to encourage anyone who is going through breast cancer or fighting any battles in your life to hold on to your faith and your family. Allow those that love you to help you. There are also local support groups that offer counseling and financial help if needed. Now here I am six years later, healthy, healed, and whole full of life. I can say that I am thankful to have overcome all that I went through. I am living my best life with my family and friends. And most of all, I got the opportunity to help my oldest granddaughter learn how to drive a car!"
As a survivor you’re obviously a strong person. What gives you strength or inspires you?
Tehdi: “My mother! She was 58 years old when diagnosed with breast cancer. She was single and worked a full-time job. She was diagnosed with the aggressive type, Triple Negative. I saw my mom get her chemo infused one time when I went home to visit her, and she actually went straight to work after it was done. In fact, she worked full time during her whole treatment. I told myself that if my mother could do it, so can I ... and I did! I had a great support system. My husband was there every step and for every appointment, every treatment. My two amazing daughters were also always there for me, and I wanted to show them the same strength my mother had shown me. My co-workers called me Superwoman. I did not see it that way, but I did try my hardest to be. I even walked the Liz Hurley Ribbon Run 5K two days after my third chemo infusion and then went home and slept for hours. By the way, my mother is still with me. Eight years after her breast cancer diagnosis, she had another very aggressive cancer called angiosarcoma and beat that, too! She is the strongest person I know.”
“I volunteer every Wednesday at Clearview Cancer Institute in the infusion area; not as a nurse but as a cancer survivor helping others that are going through this. I get immense enjoyment from this and always try to show them the positive side with a huge smile on my face. One of the patients I see frequently asks me every time, 'Why do you always seem to have that smile?' I tell him, it's because I am here and because God blessed me with that. Faith!! Prayer!! God is amazing!"