The Resilience of Cancer Warriors
- Casey DeSantis, 41, wife of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, 43, says she’s “fit to fight” at a recent event after beating breast cancer earlier this year.
- Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research, so there are many treatment options out there. Mammograms, a standard screening procedure for breast cancer, and self breast exams can save lives.
- The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
- Resilience is not an uncommon trait amongst cancer warriors. Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, says her cancer journey helped her uncover “some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities.”
After announcing she was breast-cancer-free in March, Casey hopped back on the campaign trail with her husband, Governor Ron DeSantis, 43. And she’s kept busy ever since.Read More
At an event at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Wednesday, the former local TV news anchor shared a new program for veterans called “Continue the Mission” and gave an update on how she’s feeling.
“I’m feeling good, and I’m here, and I’m fit to fight, and that’s a lot due to your encouragement,” she said.
She also took the time to thank people who’ve written her letters and prayed for her.
“I want you all to know that it didn’t go unnoticed,” she said.
Casey DeSantis’ Breast Cancer Battle
Casey first spoke publicly about her diagnosis and shared details about her timeline in December. The stage and type of her breast cancer remains unknown to the public.
She told a crowd gathered at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., that she did not experience any symptoms initially, but a vague sense of uneasiness drove her to schedule a visit with her OB-GYN.
Her doctor did not see any cause for concern, but Casey still felt like something was off. A month later, she called again to request a mammogram. That’s when her concerns were confirmed with a breast cancer diagnosis.
Casey DeSantis began chemotherapy treatment shortly after, and the governor and first lady announced in January that Casey had finished her breast cancer treatment. In total, her treatment included six rounds of chemotherapy, a surgery (unspecified as to what type) and six weeks of radiation.
“After going through both treatment and surgery for breast cancer, she is now considered cancer-free,” the governor said in March. “For all the women out there who are going through breast cancer right now: you can overcome this.
“I know it’s very difficult, but my wife is proof positive. If you wound back six or seven months, this is exactly the type of news that we had hoped for… She still has more to do, but I’m confident she’s going to make a full recovery.”
Understanding Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is a common cancer that has been the subject of much research. Many women develop breast cancer every year, but men can develop this cancer too – though it is more rare, in part, due to the simple fact that they have less breast tissue.
There are many treatment options for people with this disease, but treatment depends greatly on the specifics of each case. Identifying these specifics means looking into whether the cancerous cells have certain receptors. These receptors – the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor and the HER2 receptor – can help identify the unique features of the cancer and help personalize treatment.
“These receptors, I like to imagine them like little hands on the outside of the cell, they can grab hold of what we call ligands, and these ligands are essentially the hormones that may be circulating in the bloodstream that can then be pulled into this cancer cell and used as a fertilizer, as growth support for the cells,” Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.
One example of a type of ligand that can stimulate a cancer cell is the hormone estrogen, hence why an estrogen receptor positive breast cancer will grow when stimulated by estrogen. For these cases, your doctor may offer treatment that specifically targets the estrogen receptor. But for HER2 positive breast cancers, therapies that uniquely target the HER2 receptor may be the most beneficial.
The Importance of Breast Cancer Screening
Screening for breast cancer is typically done via mammogram, which looks for lumps in the breast tissue and signs of cancer. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says women should begin yearly mammogram screening for breast cancer at age 45 if they are at average risk for breast cancer. The ACS also says those aged 40-44 have the option to start screening with a mammogram every year, and women age 55 and older can switch to a mammogram every other year, or they can choose to continue yearly mammograms.
For screening purposes, a woman is considered to be at average risk if she doesn’t have a personal history of breast cancer, a strong family history of breast cancer, a genetic mutation known to increase risk of breast cancer such as a BRCA gene mutation or a medical history including chest radiation therapy before the age of 30. Beyond genetics, family history and experience with radiation therapy, experiencing menstruation at an early age (before 12) or having dense breasts can also put you into a high-risk category. If you are at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, you should begin screening earlier.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Connie Lehman, chief of the Breast Imaging Division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said people who hadn’t reached menopause yet should prioritize getting a mammogram every year.
“We know that cancers grow more rapidly in our younger patients, and having that annual mammogram can be lifesaving,” Dr. Lehman said. “After menopause, it may be perfectly acceptable to reduce that frequency to every two years. But what I’m most concerned about is the women who haven’t been in for a mammogram for two, three or four years, those women that have never had a mammogram. We all agree regular screening mammography saves lives.”
It’s also important to be on top of self breast exams. If you ever feel a lump in your breast, you should be vigilant and speak with your doctor right away. Voicing your concerns as soon as you have them can lead to earlier cancer detection which, in turn, can lead to better outcomes.
The Resilience of Cancer Warriors
At SurvivorNet, we get to share stories of resilience all the time because there’s no shortage of brave cancer warriors holding onto hope in the face of adversity and achieving amazing things.
Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, is another resilient cancer survivor like Casey DeSantis. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer in high school and proceeded to beat the disease not once, but twice.
Understandably so, Ripley-Burgess has had to work through a lot of complex emotions that came with her cancer journey. Even still, she’s always managed to look at life with a positive attitude.
“As I’ve worked through the complex emotions of cancer, I’ve uncovered some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities,” she previously told SurvivorNet. “I carry a very real sense that life is short, and I’m grateful to be living it! This has made me optimistic. Optimism doesn’t mean that fear, pain and division don’t exist – they do. Our world is full of negativity, judgment, and hate. Optimism means that I believe there’s always good to be found despite the bad, and this is what my life is centered around.”
She moves through life with a sense of purpose unique to someone who’s been faced with the darkest of times. Happily in remission today, she’s determined to, one day, leave the world better than she found it.
“We can choose to stay positive, treat others with respect and look for the light in spite of the darkness,” she said. “This type of attitude and behavior will lead to the kind of legacies I believe all of us hope to leave.”
Contributing: Sydney Schaefer