Debi Deryk, originally from Syracuse, New York, now lives in Port Charlotte.
When were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2003 at age 48.
What kind of treatment did you receive?
After talking to my doctors, I decided on a double mastectomy with chemotherapy to follow. Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned. After surgery was completed and lab results in, they found I also had cancer in the non-cancerous breast and had to go in again and test lymph nodes. We decided also to put a port in for chemo.
Since then, I have had re-occurrences in 2008 on my chest wall, followed with surgery and 16 sessions of radiation; in 2010, found cancer in my spine and had radiation; 2014, cancer spread to right hip and thigh; 2016, cancer in lower back, more radiation; 2017, moved to liver, moved to femur, had femur removed and a rod put in. During this time, I also always had chemotherapy.
Did you face any obstacles?
My mother had breast cancer in 1973. I remember talking to her surgeon with my two sisters. He stressed the importance of self-checks and mammograms but told us it was likely one in the three of us would get breast cancer. I got it. I was relieved because both sisters were married and had daughters and at least I didn't have any kids to pass it on to.
The cost for cancer drugs and treatment is outrageous. Fortunately, for me I had great insurance. It was still very stressful and sometimes my cost of the share was up to $2,500 every three weeks.
Finally, how do you get time off from work for needed treatment? I was extremely lucky that my boss and her boss allowed me to work from home after I used up all of my sick time.
What was the most challenging part of your experience?
The most challenging part was never knowing what to expect. I would get used to a drug and its side effects and it would stop working and I would have to try a new drug and get used to its side effects. I tried to lead a normal life and balance my family, work and treatment.
Where did you find the greatest support?
I was lucky to have very supportive family and friends but there are four special someones I owe my recovery to. First, I had just started dating my husband Nick at the time I was diagnosed. He stuck by me, took me to appointments, and finally, in 2009, married me. He could have walked away but he didn't. He is always there for me.
Next, my best friend Cyndee. She has changed bandages, driven me to appointments, sat with me and laughed and cried with me. Her support is everything.
My sister Cindy is the third someone. I always have her support but when I get down, she reminds me why I continue to fight.
Finally, the fourth someone is not a person but my furry companion, Lulu Belle, my dog. She is always by my side. If I sleep 12 hours, so does she. She makes me get up and go out for walks, even when I don't want to get out of bed.
How has the experience affected your relationship with friends and family?
I think I have a deeper relationship with them. I try to remain positive and when I have a "pity me" day I can count on one of them to remind me how lucky I am to be alive and still fighting 16 years later.
How has this experience changed you?
I believe this experience has made me look for the silver lining in life.
What advice would you share with others?
It’s okay to ask and accept help. No one has to do it alone. There is always help somewhere.