Breast cancer patient Dianna Luna of Three Rivers, left, wears a wig to cover hair loss due to chemotherapy. Sheri Kasper of Three Rivers, right, is a supportive longtime friend and fellow breast cancer survivor.
By BEN TINSLEY
THREE RIVERS, TEXAS — Dianna Luna’s longtime high school friend, Sheri Kasper, helped her stay strong and brave through the terror of breast cancer.
Luna, 51, has already suffered through an extensive mastectomy and is currently undergoing her second round of chemotherapy. She said Sheri Kasper, 49, who also had breast cancer and the same kind of surgery, has been a continual source of strength for her.
“I told you before about the ‘angel’ who helped me through this? She’s that angel,” Luna said Monday. “She was there for my surgery and was there when I had to have chemo. She was always there. She’s my angel is all I can say. I couldn’t have made it without her.”
The two longtime friends shared with a reporter their thoughts on cancer Monday as part of an ongoing series of stories focusing on the recovery of Luna–a well-thought-of member of the Three Rivers community.
Luna, who is losing hair because of chemo, was wearing a cute wig Monday as both she and Kasper emphasized the importance of cancer testing for women.
Luna and Kasper both said they believe the American Cancer Society could have a stronger presence in Live Oak County. Both also believe some kind of transportation arrangements should be made to ferry Live Oak County cancer patients to medical care. (An unrelated focus group is currently reviewing transportation needs in Live Oak County with the hope of eventually addressing the kinds of situation Luna and Kasper discussed.)
Luna monitored a lump on her left breast for two years before having the Nov. 6 biopsy that revealed a 5-centimeter tumor. It was Stage One breast cancer, and it hadn’t gone into her lymph nodes. It did, however, require the surgery and chemotherapy.
Kasper’s first faced breast cancer in April 2013 when she visited the doctor’s office for a routine–if somewhat tardy–mammogram.
After that mammogram Kasper was called back for another–one more in depth.
Then Kasper was called back yet again for a biopsy–which tested positive for cancer.
It was at this point that Kasper discovered how difficult it is to navigate the system to get breast cancer treated.
“After they test you, they just kind of tell you–‘Find a doctor!’ Kasper said. “So I started calling my OBGYN, who gave me names in San Antonio. I tried to find an oncologist, and I didn’t know what order to go in. I never dreamed I would end up with a surgical oncologist, an oncologist and a plastic surgeon. I had three doctors–three–at the end of it all.”
On June 19, 2013, Kasper underwent the same type of mastectomy as her longtime buddy. But unlike Luna, Kasper’s mastectomy was immediately followed by partial reconstructive surgery. The entire surgery took eight hours.
“I was in the hospital six days, and I stayed in San Antonio because the doctors wanted me close in the next few weeks in case something went wrong,” Kasper said. “I stayed there two weeks with my mother and came home. In October 2013, I had the second part of my breast reconstruction.”
Testing indicated Kasper would not respond well to chemotherapy.
“In the opinion of my doctor, the risks of chemo outweighed the benefits in my case,” Kasper said. “My tumor wasn’t big. It wasn’t in my lymph notes.”
So Kasper was prescribed Tamoxifen, which treats breast cancers that are hormone-receptor positive and need the hormone estrogen to grow, according to the Susan G. Komen webpage.
Tamoxifen blocks estrogen and slows or stops the growth of the tumor by preventing the cancer cells from getting the hormones they need, the webpage shows. (Tamoxifen is also used to treat breast cancer in men.)
The result of Kasper’s surgery?
“She’s cancer free,” Luna said.
Kasper encouraged Luna to make good use of her resources after Luna’s cancer was discovered.
“I have all her doctors but one,” Luna said.
Meanwhile, as far as Luna’s progress is concerned, she said she recently completed her first round of chemo and started the second.
“I have to have 12 weeks of it, and I go every Thursday,” Luna said. “If my blood count is good I have chemo, and if not I wait But so far it has been OK. I do feel tired and a little achy, but I’m fine. I do not throw up. I am just tired at times. My taste buds are awful, and I lost my hair. But no big deal. It will grow back.”
The Progress will continue to monitor and post reports about Luna’s progress, which she hopes will throw a much-needed spotlight on breast cancer treatment. Anyone who wishes to contact Luna can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Luna, who is married, has four children between the ages of 20 and 31. Kasper has one son who recently graduated from Three Rivers High School.
After Luna finishes this current slate of chemo, she intends to have breast reconstructive surgery.
“I am going the same route as Sheri–they are going to take out part of my stomach and make me a new breast,” Luna said with a smile and a laugh. “It’s beautiful. It’s amazing what the doctors can do these days. So very neat. Something good comes out of everything. So I’m going to have a tummy tuck! That’s pretty cool.”
Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper in Three Rivers. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook athttp://www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.