The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 17, 2013

Survivor shares story of diagnosis, treatment

Part 3 of our Breast Cancer Awareness series

By Samantha Pidde
Herald Staff Writer

---- — CLINTON — Deb Cramer was showering one day last August when she looked down and noticed one of her nipples was inverted. Feeling her breast, she found a lump.

“At first, you’re in self denial. You don’t want to, you know, believe that it is a lump,” Deb said.

She did not say anything to anyone until the following night, telling her husband of 38 years, Larry. After that she went to her nurse practitioner, who got the ball rolling and scheduled the biopsy.

“It’s kind of just a blur after you find the lump,” Deb said.

Diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, Deb was set for surgery in September 2012. A lumpectomy was performed, but tests showed the lump to be larger that expected, requiring a mastectomy. At age 57, Deb faced the loss of her breast.

For Deb, her cancer presented another concern. Her daughter-in-law battled the genetic type of breast cancer at age 27. While she is healthy now, Deb said it made her worry about her two granddaughters.

“It just makes it really difficult to know that their chances are that much greater to get it,” Deb said. “So, that’s the hardest part for me.”

After her mastectomy, Deb started six rounds of chemotherapy with Dr. Anoop Aggarwal. Having worked for Mercy Medical Center for 22 years, she said she was lucky to have been treated by people she knows. During her treatment, she continued to work as the unit secretary for the rehabilitation unit.

One of the most difficult parts of her chemo treatments was the fatigue she felt. By three days after a treatment, Deb would feel physically drained.

“It’s the tiredness that you really can’t explain,” Deb said. “You want to keep your eyes open, but you can’t. It just wipes you out.”

Deb tried to keep her spirits up during her treatments. When she began losing her hair, she had a hair-cutting party where she gave her 4- and 6-year-old granddaughters a pair of scissors and told them to pretend she was a Barbie doll and cut her hair. Now her hair has grown back with curls that she never had before.

Her chemo was followed with 36 radiation treatments at the Mercy Radiation Oncology Center, ending in May. For her, the best part was being treated in her hometown. Deb said most do not realize how lucky Clinton is to have such great treatment opportunities.

“I can’t imagine having to go out of town for any of this,” Deb said. “It made it much easier, knowing the people who would be taking care of me.”

Through the past year, the support of her family, friends and co-workers are what got Deb through. She was surprised by the outpouring of concern and support.

“How people come out of the woodwork to help you,” Deb said.

However, most of her support came from her husband. Larry was the one who took care of her while she was wiped out by the chemo.

“He was right there beside me the whole way,” Deb said. “He never left my side.”

Since finishing her treatment in May, Deb has been returning to her normal life. While doctors will not say she is “cured,” she has not had any relapses.

There has not been a day since her diagnosis that the cancer has not been on her mind. Just looking at her body, the experience is always part of her life. However, she works each day to put it behind her.

“You just have to kind of think of it as a bump in the road of your life,” Deb said.