Heather's Story of Cancer Survival

When twenty-nine year old Heather Densmore received the call at work in August of 2014 confirming she had cancer, her knees gave out and she fell to the floor—overwhelmed and terrified of what this news meant.

She had been nearly positive that the call would confirm the lump she had found a few weeks earlier was benign.

Heather was diagnosed with Stage II HER2-positive breast cancer. Less than a month later, she was undergoing chemotherapy.

“I felt so lost,” she said of that time in her life. “What can I do?”

She turned to social media, searching “#chemo” on Instagram. There, she came across another young woman battling breast cancer. Heather reached out to her and became part of a virtual support group of 14 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer between the ages of 24 and 36. The women, scattered across the Midwest, shared their cancer challenges and victories through a group text message.

Breast cancer survivors

This support group, coupled with her own family and friends, helped to boost Heather’s spirits. She had her last round of chemotherapy on Christmas Eve, followed by more tests to determine if surgery would be an option to remove the tumor.

A week later, the test results were in, and her tumor had grown and traveled to her lymph nodes, a rarity. The news confirmed what Heather had sensed during chemotherapy—that the tumor was not shrinking and was instead growing larger.

She took matters into her own hands. “You have to be your own advocate,” she said.

Heather made an appointment with Chace Lottich, MD, an MD Anderson Cancer Network® certified physician and a surgeon on Community Hospital South’s campus, for a second opinion. The appointment lasted nearly two hours, with Dr. Lottich answering the many questions Heather and her sister had.

“I never received the kind of service that I received at Community, and I tell everyone that,” said Heather.

That same night, Dr. Lottich called Heather’s primary care physician and another oncologist. She took Heather’s case to Community Health Network’s Tumor Board. A lumpectomy was not an option, so Heather opted for a double mastectomy, and Dr. Lottich performed a full lymph node removal.

“I was so lucky,” said Heather. “She fully treated me the best that she could.”

Heather, who lived on the north side of Indianapolis at the time, was put in touch with a team of experts at Community including Eugene Hsiao, MD, a Community Health Network physician practicing plastic and reconstructive surgery. And she traveled to Community Hospital South regularly to receive radiation therapy from Darrel Ross, MD, an MD Anderson Cancer Network® certified physician practicing radiation oncology.

During an appointment with Dr. Ross, Heather was offered a voucher through the Oncology Patient Assistance Fund. Heather was blown away by the generosity, and the vouchers helped her buy food, paid for one of the prescriptions she desperately needed, and eased some of the financial stress that cancer can cause.

“It’s Community as a whole, it’s just amazing,” said Heather. And to her team of caregivers, she says, “You made this experience better.”

Heather finished radiation on June 9, 2015. She is still close with her virtual support group, who call themselves “Breast Friends” and have taken on the challenge of raising breast cancer awareness through social media. And she was a special guest at The Giving Gig 2016, Community Health Network’s annual event dedicated to raising money for the Oncology Patient Assistance Fund and directly helping cancer patients, just like Heather.

Only a short time ago, Heather was in a fight for her life. Now, she is playing a critical role in helping others fight for theirs.

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