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Breast Cancer Diagnosis Shakes Family to the Core

Deb McKee is the rock for her family. As a single mother for most of her children’s lives, she shares a very tight-knit bond with her children, Heather and Brad. It’s no wonder Deb’s breast cancer diagnosis in October 2016 shook them all to their core.

Not originally from Oskaloosa, a sudden divorce brought her to the community to live with her daughter’s family. “When I called my daughter and told her my marriage was ending, she hopped right in the car and came to get me in Missouri. We’re always there for each other and being with Heather, my son-in-law and grandkids was just what I needed.”

About eight months after her move, Deb noticed a small lump under her armpit. “My youngest grandson was two at the time. He was climbing into my lap for a story and I felt a terrible pain,” Deb explained.

Deb was immediately referred for a mammogram, which showed it was a fibroid cyst. “I’d had one before about 10 years earlier while living in Kansas. At the time, they said if it’s painful it’s not cancer so I wasn’t worried.”

Another year went by and Deb’s breast became very red and painful. “It took a bit for me to find time to go to the doctor and since it had been nothing in the past I told myself it probably was nothing to worry about,” Deb said.

Her next appointment resulted in a much different prognosis. “My doctor said right away she was afraid it was cancer. She got me in for a mammogram and breast ultrasound that very day and said she was referring me to the best of the best. I had an appointment with Dr. (Tim) Breon the next day.

“Dr. Breon took one look at my breast and said it was cancer, but took a biopsy to confirm. That was a shock. I cried for a few minutes in the office and Dr. Breon asked if he could pray for me.

“Not being from here and all the stress I had been under due to my divorce, I didn’t know much about the community or have a doctor I saw regularly,” Deb shared. “When Dr. Breon prayed for me, right then I knew I was here for a reason and the right doctor was caring for me.”

“Anyone could have looked at Deb’s chest and known something was terribly wrong,” General Surgeon Dr. Tim Breon confirmed. “Sadly, the old adage that if it’s painful it’s not cancer causes people to delay going to the doctor. I tell people, if there is a change, painful or not, get it checked out right away.”

Under the encouragement of Dr. Breon, Deb shared her probable diagnosis with her daughter and eldest grandson. “I think this has been harder on Heather than me. My son Brad lives in Kansas City so he might be hiding his reactions but I told him not to worry until I told him he should.”

Dr. Breon scheduled Deb for an appointment with Dr. Bradley Hiatt, an Oncologist at MHP’s Cancer Care and Infusion Center, the following Thursday. “Heather came to that first appointment with me. I was feeling pretty good assuming I’d learn more about the treatment, and then have two weeks to get prepared.

“Dr. Hiatt was very kind and explained the chemotherapy I’d need. Then he asked if I was ready to get started, he already had my medicine with him! I hesitated because that wasn’t what I had planned for the day but Heather encouraged me to get started.

Deb said she spent 16weeks having chemotherapy every two weeks for one to six hours. “Heather had brought me to my first appointment with Dr. Hiatt after working all night. When they decided to do a treatment, the nurses and I encouraged her to go home and sleep, I’d be fine and I could walk home. She left and I had my medicine, then all of a sudden, in walks Heather toward the end of my treatment,” Deb recalled. “She had been sleeping in the car and set an alarm. She’s been there for me through all of this; it meant so much to see her walk through that door.”

According to Dr. Breon, he and Dr. Hiatt recommended chemotherapy before surgery to try to shrink Deb’s tumor to increase her chances of survival. “Her tumor was so large, if we could shrink it, it would give her better odds that all of it could be removed during a mastectomy. It’s a miracle she didn’t have cancer all throughout her body.”

After eight rounds of chemotherapy, the next step in Deb’s treatment was a radical mastectomy (surgical removal of the breast) in May. Once Dr. Breon began, he had to remove the breast, tissue extending down over her rib cage as well as some lymph nodes.

“Deb’s cancer was very advanced,” Dr. Breon explained. “I felt confident we removed it all during surgery, and follow-up testing confirmed that.”

After her mastectomy, Deb spent the night in the hospital and the next morning, said Dr. Breon visited and prayed with her. She was in for a check-up the following week and Dr. Breon couldn’t believe her progress. “I healed greatly,” Deb said. “Dr. Breon said I had been given a miracle!

“Dr. Breon was a support system for my entire family. It might sound odd to some people but getting cancer has made things better for me,” Deb shared. “It has made me see things a lot differently and brought me a lot closer to God.

“I have made so many friends over the past year. Everyone from the imaging technologists to the nurses in surgery and the Cancer Care and Infusion Center has been wonderful! I have only cried two times in the course of my journey with cancer, instead I gave it all up to God and I focus on being positive and upbeat.”

“Everyone at MHP who has cared for Deb has said she is amazing,” Dr. Breon shared. “I believe a person’s outlook is as responsible for their health as medical treatments. Deb focuses on what she can do and moving forward and I believe that has carried her through.”

The next step for Deb and her family is radiation to ensure her cancer doesn’t return. She’s OK with it though because she’s thankful for each day she gets to hear about a new discovery her grandkids have made! “I’m always on the go but when my grandkids have a story to tell, I’m all ears! Each day is another opportunity for me to help them follow their dreams, I’m very blessed.”

Timothy Breon, MD, FACS

General Surgeon Tim Breon, MD, FACS, is an experienced, Board Certified Surgeon specializing in traditional, laparoscopic and robotic-assisted surgical treatments. Dr. Breon commonly performs operations on the colon as well as the gallbladder, female anatomy and appendix. Dr. Breon grew up on a farm near Hedrick, Iowa. He chose to practice at MHP to ensure advanced surgical care, focused on the whole body, is available to all patients in need of routine or emergent intervention.

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