Battling Bruin: Debbie

Posted October 2013

During a routine mammogram in August of 2010, doctors first spotted Debbie’s breast cancer. At first, because of how fast moving and aggressive her cancer was, the attending doctor was not sure if it had originated in the breast or elsewhere in the body. For Debbie it was terrifying to have one of the doctors question whether the cancer had metastasized from somewhere else in her body. The final outcome was a diagnosis of Triple Negative Stage 2 breast cancer, which is one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. Doctors advised treatment with surgery to remove the cancer and check the lymph nodes. After that Debbie would undergo very aggressive chemo treatments and radiation therapy. One of the first referrals Debbie found for her treatment was for her surgeon, Dr. Hany Farid, who had graduated from the UCLA School of Medicine. As UCLA alumni themselves, Debbie and her husband were enormously comforted to find this background in a surgeon. Her husband even wore a UCLA T-shirt to Debbie’s first consultation with Dr. Farid.

Besides the need for surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, the other daunting element of being faced with cancer was that Debbie has a daughter who was seven at the time of diagnosis. Her daughter, Elizabeth, has been on the UCLA Junior Spirit Squad since the first year it started. Debbie was terrified at the thought of not being there to raise her daughter or to see her grow up. She had a very long and hard road to having Elizabeth, with many pregnancy losses and treatments. It took six years from Debbie’s first pregnancy to get pregnant with Elizabeth. After the struggle to have her, Debbie could not imagine being absent in Elizabeth’s life. Elizabeth struggled with the treatments as well as the rest of the family. One of the hardest things for the entire family was the anticipation of Debbie’s hair loss during chemo. However, when the time came Debbie and her daughter found amusement in trying on all different wig styles - from Shirley Temple wigs to long straight blonde hair to Cleopatra styles.

Through her entire battle with cancer Debbie found comfort in the love and attention from her husband, daughter, family and friends. She felt the support of her old friends, and she also made new friends who had battled cancer including many fellow UCLA Bruins. Now she is three years past the first diagnosis, Debbie looks back on her battle with breast cancer often. The biggest message Debbie hopes her story will bring to others is the importance of mammograms. If she had waited any longer to get her mammogram her cancer may have spread even farther. Before her diagnosis, Debbie did not realize she had a family link to breast cancer. Her mother and older sisters had not had cancer. After her diagnosis, though, she realized that a cousin had died from breast cancer, and three other cousins had been diagnosed and treated as well. Like her family members, it has taken a long time to restore Debbie’s stamina and health, but Debbie has battled her breast cancer with the strength of a Mighty Bruin.

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