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Fri, April 19

Don’t forget to perform self-breast examinations as part of staying healthy, survivor says
Dee Dee Nevelle

Dee Dee Nevelle at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary. (Courtesy)

Dee Dee Nevelle at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary. (Courtesy)

Dee Dee Nevelle in Prescott is a woman with a message this month for the sisters of her community — perform self-breast exams.

They might just save your life.

Celebrating 20 years as a breast cancer survivor on March 31, 2019, Nevelle wants to empower women to take charge of their health care. They know their bodies best.

“I had no family history or indications from mammograms, so it can happen to anyone!” described Nevelle, who since her diagnosis has undergone double mastectomies, the removal of lymph nodes, breast reconstruction and implant replacement, and assorted cancer medications.

The retired 32-year educator who works as a docent at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary is confident her self-exam, and subsequent phone call to her doctor and a breast surgeon, is the reason she is celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year as a survivor.

Two decades ago, Nevelle was an elementary principal in Phoenix.

One morning, she noticed that the dimpling in her breast area appeared deeper than she remembered — she had been informed at her annual mammogram that dimpling is part of the aging process. With her finger, she touched the depression and found a “beebee” size lump.

Upon finding the abnormality, Nevelle quickly dialed her physician and arranged an appointment with a general surgeon. As the mammogram and an ultrasound had found nothing, the surgeon suggested a surgical biopsy, she said.

She was informed a frozen section taken from the biopsy was benign.

Imagine then, Nevelle’s shock when she went to the surgeon 10 days later to have her biopsy stitches removed and was “blindsided” with the diagnosis of “discontinuing microscopic infiltrating lobular carcinoma.”

In other words, the lump was not benign. In seconds, Nevelle went from relief to facing the reality of breast cancer. Fifteen days later, she underwent a full mastectomy and surgical removal of 17 lymph nodes so as to remove the cancer.

Nineteen years later, Nevelle still finds it hard to “relive the details.”

Suffice it to say, it was a sobering diagnosis that left her pondering her future.

“I remember a time when I’d cry and ask myself, “Am I going to be here next year?”

At the time, Nevelle was the principal of an elementary school in Phoenix. She counts herself fortunate she had a staff and student body that enabled her to cope with her diagnosis and treatment.

“My family was, and still is, my rock!” Nevelle declared.

Before her diagnosis, Nevelle was a regular participant in the Phoenix Valley’s Susan B. Komen Race for the Cure.

“But after my diagnosis, I rank the 5K as a survivor!”

She went on to also do three of the organization’s three-day, 60-mile walks with her sister, the person she describes as “my greatest source of strength!”

“I was determined to complete every mile-blisters and soreness couldn’t compare to the anguish of my pain and of those who were fighting, undergoing chemo, or those who had lost the battle!”

In 2005, Nevelle retired from a 32-year career as an educator — 13 as a teacher and 19 as both a principal and adjunct college professor — and moved to Prescott.

At the time, Nevelle said she was still taking cancer medications and struggling with biopsies on her remaining breast. She consulted with her new doctors here, and they determined her best move was to undergo a “prophylactic mastectomy” of the other breast.

“I haven’t been sorry about the decision!” Nevelle emphasized.

Today, Nevelle is a busy, healthy woman who donates her time as a docent at the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary where her fellow volunteers, zookeepers, staff and the animals “make my heart smile!”

“My life is full and I’m thankful each day! I have three fur babies who don’t care about my scars- inside and out. I have wonderful, loyal friends … While there are still health challenges from cancer and the treatment, I love my life and look forward to my 20 year anniversary!”

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