Northside Hospital - Cancer survivor’s journey proves every mammogram is important

Cancer survivor’s journey proves every mammogram is important

Posted on: October 24, 2019


At age 35, Darla Hansen’s general practitioner recommended she begin 5-year, baseline mammograms – five years early than the average recommendation for women. In 2011, at age 40, she began annual exams.

Darla’s 2017 annual mammogram results came back clean, but within a year, in June of 2018, her results showed a different story – there was an area of concern in the deep tissue against her chest wall.

Confirming the results by ultrasound and diagnostic mammogram, Darla was referred to breast surgeon Dr. Rhonda Wachsmuth at Northside Hospital Cherokee and she received a biopsy.

In the last week of June, Darla, age 47, received her biopsy results and was diagnosed with stage 2A invasive ductal carcinoma in the left breast, which had spread to her lymph nodes under her left arm.

I am so grateful that I always go and get my physicals. I am proof that you can’t always catch it yourself, but your doctors and annual exams can.” Darla said. “I didn’t feel anything because of how deep it was, and if I had skipped my exam, I would have been stage 4 when they finally caught it.”

A week after diagnosis, Darla went back for tests to see if the cancer had spread. Results showed very small spots on her liver and lung that were too small to biopsy, so she continued active monitoring.

In July, Darla began treatment with an oncologist, receiving six rounds of harsh chemo before surgery. The drugs were hard on her body, making her loose her sense of her taste buds and almost 50 pounds of weight.

On November 29, 2019, Darla underwent a nine-hour double mastectomy via DIEP flap procedure lead by her plastic surgeon and Dr. Wachsmuth. Following the procedure, she remained in the ICU for four days.

The staff at Northside was great,” she side “Anything we needed they got it for us. They were very attentive.”

After recovering from surgery, Darla underwent daily radiation treatments for 28 days in February 2019 at the Northside Hospital Cherokee Infusion Center, under the supervision of Dr. Lisa Klepczyk of Northside Radiation Oncology Consultants. She went through an additional 12 rounds of maintenance chemo, finishing her last treatment in June 2019. Because Darla’s cancer was hormonal based, she also had a hysterectomy in April 2019, and will remain on hormone suppressants for the next 10 years.

Most recently in her recovery process, Darla participated in an art and health photoshoot hosted by Feel Beautiful Today, at Northside Hospital Cherokee.

I wanted to participate because seeing pictures of my journey might encourage somebody to get their mammogram or help someone gain encouragement while going through their own cancer journey, and that makes all the difference,” she said.

Darla goes to physical therapy twice a week to treat a swelling in left breast, a side effect of her surgery procedures. She visits with her oncologist, breast surgeon and radiologist every three months.

For those who are going through similar situations Darla encourages others to stay positive and find support within their communities.

Keep a positive attitude no matter your situation, and learn to accept the things you cannot control,” she said. “And most importantly, make sure you have a support group. I was so lucky to have my family and friends by my side throughout my journey.”

*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.

Filed under: Cancer, Patient Stories,


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