Originally Published: October 22, 2011 10 p.m.
October's Breast Cancer Awareness campaign prompts stories of courage in the face of one of life's hardest knocks.
Dina Mountcastle, 42, talked about her experience recently at a meeting of MOPS - Mothers of Preschoolers who gather twice monthly to chat and share breakfast while volunteers care for their children. On this particular day, the mothers were making pillows for breast cancer patients to hold under their sore arms.
Mountcastle recounted her own experience with breast cancer that began when she felt a lump under her arm while taking a shower in 2009. She immediately went to her physician and diagnostic procedures discovered a small piece of the disease in her right breast. Mountcastle said she expected routine surgery and prophylactic treatment.
"But, that didn't happen," she said. The cancer had spread into her bones and liver, and doctors delayed surgery until she had completed six months of chemotherapy. She then endured a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and removal of her ovaries because her cancer was estrogen-driven, she said. She went through a period of being cancer free, but in March 2010, the cancer was back - she had a tiny tumor on her liver.
She now goes for routine treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Goodyear, Ariz., and one positive aspect of her fight is that "I have never felt sick - ever," she said.
MOPS, sponsored by the American Evangelical Lutheran Church in Prescott, has been a large part of her support system, Mountcastle said.
When her cancer was diagnosed, "They surrounded me," she said. "I have never felt such a sense of community. They have taken breast cancer awareness to a whole new level." At the completion of the project, the pillows went to treatment centers for women in need of them.
Mountcastle continues her quest to help victims of cancer. She and Lara Roehr spearhead Moms Surviving Cancer, a support group where cancer patients receive "encouragement from someone who has walked that road," Roehr said.
Roehr understands that road. The Prescott resident learned that she suffered invasive carcinoma in December 2006, had a double mastectomy the following January and went through four months of chemotherapy and eight weeks of radiation, along with breast reconstruction and a hysterectomy.
In December, she will mark the fifth year since her diagnosis, and she reflects on the life-changing effect this has had on her and her family. When she found out she had breast cancer, her children were 8, 6 and 3 years old. "It was challenging to do all the mommy things and process the cancer thing," she said. As she coped with her treatment, her family and friends were around her, she said, adding that faith in God became "very real to us." Her husband, Brett, has been great and her children "troopers," she said.
Another of Mountcastle's acquaintances, Sarah Rouette, a single mother of two young boys, discovered a lump in her breast in March 2010, even though a mammogram in 2009 was clear.
"I cried, cried and cried," she said when her doctor gave her choices to mull over since the lump was too big for a lumpectomy. Tests also detected a mass on one of her ovaries.
"I didn't know much about cancer," Rouette said. But, she would find out as she went through a bilateral mastectomy, a complete hysterectomy and the beginning of breast reconstruction "all at the same time" in a six-hour surgery on the day before her 36th birthday.
A Prescott resident, Rouette works in her mother's Oriental Express restaurant in Chino Valley, along with being a busy "soccer mom." Her message is that breast self-exams are critical. "Don't depend on mammograms," she said. "Know your body."
Cancer has given her a "good perspective on life, enjoying her boys, friend, family and life itself," she said. Now, she is trying to educate others and encourage those who are going through what she has. "Nobody should have to fight cancer alone," she said.
Rouette speaks of her personal journey on her blog, www.drinkwaterandbreathe.blogspot.com. Part of a recent post says that she "found a new love this summer," a love "that has been an integral part of my healing and self discovery," a love "that has connected me to numerous new, wonderful people. ... This love is not a person. It is my Haro mountain bike.
"My bike has already taken me to some amazing places, mentally and physically. I look forward to all the places we will go."
For more information about the Moms Surviving Cancer support group, call Mountcastle at 928-277-3001 or Roehr at 928-420-3789.