Danielle DeCook of Middletown said she was in complete shock when her doctor told her she had stage two invasive lobular breast cancer two years ago.

“I was 45 years old, married and the mother to three beautiful girls. This was not part of my plan,” DeCook said. “It was also a shock to my husband since I was healthy and very active.”

She was diagnosed after her annual mammogram in October 2014, perhaps because she asked for more than just the routine exam.

“I chose to have the 3D mammogram because there is a history of breast cancer in my family,” she said. “After additional images and an ultrasound, it was determined that I needed a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed that I did have breast cancer.”

Although she was the one with cancer, she said the most difficult part was worrying how it would affect her family.

“Telling our girls I had cancer was probably the hardest part for me,” she said. “I am their mom. I’m supposed to be strong and take care of them, not the other way around. It was a lot for them to process and understand. I also contacted our daughter’s teachers so they could keep an extra eye on them at school.”

After meeting with her surgeon, DeCook decided to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction which included three more surgeries. She also had a preventative hysterectomy.

“I was fortunate and did not need chemotherapy or radiation,” she said.

However, the operations took a toll on her and her family.

“All of my surgeries were done in a 15-month time period. I felt like it was never ending,” she said. “The hardest part for my family was watching me go through all of this. My husband and our girls helped me in every way they could. Even on the hardest days I tried my best to stay positive because I knew they were scared and worried.”

DeCook said the most important thing for her was to keep everything running as routinely as possible.

“We had so much amazing support from our family and friends, it really helped all of us through this,” she said. “I will say we ate very well during my recovery with all the meals that were provided.”

At one of her exams, she picked up a brochure from the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition about the Peer Mentor program.

“I called and they matched me with someone who went through the same cancer and surgeries as me. Words cannot describe how thankful I am for this program,” DeCook said. “It was so nice to talk to someone who completely understood what I was going through. I am now a mentor for the DBCC and have been able to help others through their journey.”

She said her experience has changed her perspective.

“I tried very hard to stay positive and remember that this was a chapter in my life. It’s not my whole story. Cancer will always be in the back of my mind but I refuse to live my life in fear of it returning,” DeCook said. “I learned what really matters in life, and to celebrate and appreciate it all. Every day is a gift.”

Now she sees her oncologist every few months for checkups.

“This November I will celebrate two years cancer free! I am not sure what I will do to mark my second ‘cancerversary’ but it will be memorable,” she said.

Her advice to someone newly diagnosed with cancer is to take one day at a time.

“It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all of this. Allow your family and friends to help you,” DeCook said. “Ask a ton of questions at all of your appointments – you are your own advocate.”

She also emphasized that early detection is key to surviving cancer: “Don’t put off those mammograms or other screenings.”

“Hearing you have cancer is not something anyone wants to hear, but knowing you survived it makes you realize anything is possible,” DeCook said. “I have been very open about my breast cancer journey in hopes that it helps save someone else.”

SUPPORT GROUP

In Middletown, the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition offers “A Breast Cancer Conversation,” a free, program for people diagnosed with breast cancer who are currently in or have completed their treatment.

Join other survivors for encouragement, friendship, fellowship and support the second Wednesday evening of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m., at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Price Hall, off of East Main Street.

For more information, call Lois at 302-672-6435 or email lwilkinson@debreastcancer.org.