Miami local DeAnna Chenoweth survived her battle with breast cancer and continues to thrive while using her experiences to create a support group for women diagnosed in the four state region.
MIAMI – The "C" word.
As the second leading cause of death in the United States, the nation's cancer burden often makes the word even hard to utter.
In 2017, The American Cancer Society estimates 1,688,780 new cancer cases and 600,920 cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States.*
Yet, hope remains. From 1991 to 2014, the overall cancer death rate dropped 25 percent.** As cancer treatments and prevention and early detection continue to improve, so do survival rates.
Detection, treatment, and remission are major milestones in surviving cancer, and for nearly three decades Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) Midwestern Regional Medical Center has been celebrating the lives won in the fight against the disease.
CTCA's annual Celebrate Life event brings together both cancer survivors and caregivers for a day of empowerment and celebration. This year, on June 9, DeAnna Chenoweth, a breast cancer survivor, mother of three and full-time medical sonographer from Miami, joined more than 135 fellow five-year cancer survivors at the event in Zion, Illinois.
The day included a commemorative tree-planting ceremony, a symbol of the wonder of life and growth, according to CTCA. The 2017 Celebrate Life event marked the 29th year that a tree has been planted in honor of each five-year survivor in attendance.
Returning home, Chenoweth went back to the routines of life. Family, work, and these days, a circle of support she helped create during her journey to beat cancer.
Although Chenoweth had no family history of breast cancer, her work as a medical sonographer had helped to ingrain monthly self-exams into her health routine.
It was during a self-exam five years ago that Chenoweth felt a lump and knew immediately something was not right.
"I actually felt a lump and knew from doing my self-breast exams every month it was a new," said Chenoweth. "That's kind of my point to young women. Whether they have a family history or don't have a family history, know your lumps. Know what your breast feel like in general."
Things moved quickly once she discovered the lump, which she found ahead of her scheduled annual mammogram just a month away.
"My diagnosis was April 26, and I had my surgery May 22. So, I had surgery pretty quickly," said Chenoweth. "I actually found it on a Thursday, the following Wednesday had a biopsy and had results the following Thursday."
Chenoweth said she definitely attributes part of her successful recovery to early detection, along with the treatments she received at the CTCA Midwestern medical campus.
Her most important advice is for women to perform monthly self-exams and receive their annual mammograms.
Diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease, known as intraductal breast cancer, Chenoweth explained that even with an early diagnosis she still had to go through chemotherapy, and rounds of a smart biological agent that CTCA was able to offer.
Her treatment plan required her to travel to Illinois frequently, where she received care at the CTCA Midwestern medical campus. A decision she said she knew was the right one after making an initial visit.
"Due to insurance reasons, I ended up at Zion at Cancer Treatment Centers. I did go to Tulsa for my first opinion and decided after that visit that I would really like to have a second opinion on treatment," said Chenoweth. "So I called the little 1-800 number and spoke to a (CTCA) representative and ended up there and after seeing their facility knew that was where I wanted to receive my treatment."
For about 18 months Chenoweth traveled from Oklahoma to CTCA Midwestern in Illinois about every three weeks for treatment. Her travel arrangements were a part of her treatment plan from flight arrangements to her travel to and from the medical campus.
"Just the whole system is a very positive experience that really looks at all parts of treatment. They are concerned about your mental and spiritual health as well," said Chenoweth. "They also involve things like acupuncture, holistic medicine, and vitamins. Things that just the general population of U.S. medicine doesn't really use in compliment to their treatments."
She rates her CTCA experience as an exceptional one because of offering such an integrated approach to her treatment, but most importantly, by allowing her to surrender her role as the usual caretaker to be taken care of.
"It was difficult giving up that control. In that environment, you were at peace with letting someone guide you through that," said Chenoweth.
As a mother and someone working in the medical field, Chenoweth admits being a caretaker is a large part of who she is. In her recovery, she found another outlet for her naturally maternal leanings, creating a support group for women to share information, resources, friendship, and a place to openly discuss the complex trials and emotions that come with cancer.
Even being in the medical field, Chenoweth said facing her diagnosis and her journey to recovery still held many unknowns, especially emotionally. She did not have family who had experience with what she was going through, and treatment stirred a lot of questions.
She expressed deep gratitude for having friends and family at her side but said she felt the call to do more for other women facing and overcoming cancer.
Chenoweth said everything from her initial cancer diagnosis to wanting to rush into treatment, to insurance coverage and sometimes just needing to "say stuff that's not very pretty," prompted her and a friend to create the private Facebook group "Surviving Together" where women in the four state area diagnosed with breast cancer can ask questions and seek support.
The group currently has 188 members from all walks of life.
The women in the group have created a strong online network that also spills over into their everyday lives, with social meet-ups, drop-ins during treatments, and sharing in life's great milestones such as marriages and the birth of children.
Currently, Chenoweth works for the Claremore Indian Hosptial as an ultrasound tech and continues part-time with Miami INTEGRIS, where she still takes clients.
Chenoweth's son Eli will be a Miami High School senior this coming academic year and is the owner of The Frozen Elephant shaved ice shack and mobile truck in Miami.
Her twin daughters have officially hit adulthood. Malarie is in Stillwater and Hanna is a college student at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
Life is good, and Chenoweth is proving with each day it is not only possible to survive but to thrive after cancer.
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.
* CA Cancer J Clin 2017;67:7–30. © 2017 American Cancer Society.
** Siegel, R. L., Miller, K. D. and Jemal, A. (2017), Cancer statistics, 2017. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 67: 7–30. doi:10.3322/caac.21387e