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Family, friends provide support

Hubbard woman fights aggressive form of disease

EDITOR’S NOTE: Local breast cancer survivors are sharing their stories on the Health pages throughout October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

HUBBARD — When it comes to coping with a cancer diagnosis and the spate of bad news that has followed, you could say Brenda Henderson resorts to the three “S’s: stoicism, support and stress management.

“I just take things one step at a time,” said Henderson, who was diagnosed early this year with a type of Stage 3 breast cancer called moderately differential invasive ductal carcinoma.

Henderson, 60, has dealt with the stress associated with the disease and setbacks via receiving a lot of support from family, friends and a host of others. Perhaps the most shining recent example was her participation in the 12th annual Panerathon earlier this month in Youngstown, in which about 35 team members rallied around her.

MDIDC is an aggressive type of invasive ductal carcinoma, which is the most common form of the disease in women, according to www.breastcancer.org. Symptoms include a lump under the arm, skin irritation, pain, swelling and thickening of the breast or nipple.

In December 2020, Henderson noticed swelling under her arm while swimming, an activity she performed several times per week. When she received her regular mammogram the following month, Henderson’s doctor wasn’t alarmed initially, but an ultrasound revealed something was amiss before the results of a biopsy came back positive for cancer.

“It was a big game changer,” Henderson said, adding that her doctor called to confirm the diagnosis.

During her first surgery earlier this year at the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center in Youngstown, four lymph nodes were removed, all of which tested positive for cancer. She also had an aggressive tumor in her left breast, Henderson noted.

The first procedure failed to remove all of the cancer, so a second lumpectomy was needed several months later. Nevertheless, some of the surgical margins, or tissue, were still cancerous, so in mid-May, she began the first of eight rounds of chemotherapy that lasted 16 weeks, which Henderson and her husband, Gary, assumed would take care of any remaining cancer cells.

On Sept. 28, however, she underwent a third surgery, this time a mastectomy to her left breast at the Cleveland Clinic. After an MRI revealed a “spot” that indicated a possible tumor, 12 additional lymph nodes were removed from under her arm, nine of which tested positive for cancer.

It wasn’t until her left breast was removed that the doctors said, after surgery, she would be cancer-free, because margins came back negative this time and the nine cancerous lymph nodes had been removed, as were any tumors that could have still been in the breast, Gary explained.

Brenda’s next major step will be radiation treatments at the Joanie Abdu Center.

For the radiation, a new, state-of-the-art machine will be used that can more accurately pinpoint the location of any remaining cancer and minimize the chance of collateral damage to the heart or elsewhere, she explained.

“It’s just emotional. You can’t believe you’re going through all of this. I know I just have to do it. It’s one step closer to being cancer-free,” after the radiation is complete, she said.

The mother of two retired after having worked nearly 26 years for General Motors, most of it in the paint shop at the Lordstown plant before it closed. After that, she was transferred to GM’s Lansing, Mich., facility, where she spent about 14 months — often working up to 60 hours per week — before retiring Oct. 1, 2020.

Henderson, who attends a support group monthly called Joanie’s Sisters, said her ambitions include volunteering for Yellow Brick Place, which supports and educates those with cancer and their families via individual and group services, and the Apple Breast Cancer Warrior Foundation, a nonprofit that helps raise funds for those with the disease.

Also a top priority is serving as an advocate for survivors and people going through the journey.

One thing she has learned via the support group is that nearly every person who overcomes their battle worries that the cancer will return, regardless of how long they’ve been in remission, Gary explained.

His wife’s journey is marked by “highs and lows,” and the couple is now experiencing a “high” because Brenda is living a more normal life. But the next “low” likely will be when she begins radiation, because of the probable side effects, Gary continued.

For her part, Brenda implored people who are newly diagnosed to seek others’ guidance and begin networking with those who are best able to understand the process.

“Reach out to other people who have been on the journey because they will help you get through it,” she advised. “They will help you navigate. And be positive. Have faith.”

“You’ve got to have a support network. That means so much,” Gary added.

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