Manning woman views breast cancer diagnosis as an opportunity
by Robert Joseph Baker | October 27, 2017 3:44 pm
Lori Dunlap saw her breast cancer differently than most other patients.
Having what she described as a “deep faith,” she came to see the illness not as a burden, but as an opportunity.
“I thought, how about all the people I can reach because I have this,” she said. “That kind of thinking never let me think or wonder for a minute, ‘Why me?’”
A Sumter native and current resident of the Home Branch area of Clarendon County, Dunlap was diagnosed in 2009 after performing a self-exam.
“I pretty much had it in my head when I found the lump (that cancer) is what it was,” she said. “I just had that feeling.”
Dunlap found the lump on a Sunday morning, shortly before attending church. She saw her OB-GYN that Tuesday, had a mammogram Wednesday, and the doctor called her on Thursday morning.
She had an appointment set for 5 p.m. that very day to speak with a surgeon and have a needle biopsy.
Dr. Raymond Dominici performed the procedure. He called Dunlap the next week.
“He wanted me to go through with the lumpectomy,” she said. “Dr. Dominici never said the word ‘cancer’ to me. It was really interesting; no one ever really said that word. We all knew it, of course.”
Dunlap said when Dominici came into meet her during the biopsy, she told him to just do it.
“I said, ‘Just take ‘em; I don’t need ‘em,” Dunlap said. “I wasn’t born with them. I don’t need them. He said, ‘Do you mind if I examine you first?’”
After seeing the surgeon, Dunlap visited the Manning Walmart.
“I had to have things from both sides of the store, so I cut through the craft section,” she said. Dunlap began a conversation with a woman she didn’t know. Neither exchanged names.
“We chatted a while, and I told her I had to go get something, and she said, ‘OK, I will walk with you. I will walk beside you,’” Dunlap said. The mysterious woman eventually walked Dunlap to her car.
“I never saw her get into a car,” Dunlap said. “On the way home, I realized that I was the calmest I’d ever been. I tell people now that she was my angel.”
Dunlap said she didn’t initially tell a lot of people about her non-invasive cancer.
“At the same time I was scheduled for the lumpectomy, my aunt had a heart attack,” she said. “I wouldn’t tell anyone in the family. Only my husband and my son, because he was living with us, they were the only ones who knew. I had one child off at college and the other lived in Georgia. I didn’t see the need to worry someone until I really knew there was something to worry about.
Her family eventually found out, however.
“When Dr. Dom got the results – the margins the pathologist was telling him – he was uneasy with them,” said Dunlap. The woman’s sentinel node, which was biopsied, should have shown signs of tumors.
“Mine was clear,” Dunlap said. “There was nothing there and no tumors there. Dr. Dom didn’t like what they were telling him. He was uneasy about it for some reason.”
Dominici recommended a single mastectomy.
“They did that and found a tiny tumor in a lymph node,” Dunlap said. “All from him going on his instincts. He told me that I would have to have chemotherapy, but that he wasn’t sure about radiation.”
Dunlap, then 47, was hit hard by the chemotherapy, she said.
“He told me they would hit me hard because of my age,” she said. “And they did.”
Dunlap had six treatments, one every three weeks. Her husband, Charlie, accompanied her.
“We went to Columbia to SCOA,” she said. “My husband would work all night and then go with me over there.”
Dunlap’s husband would practice his singing while at chemotherapy with his wife.
“He sings with the church choir a lot,” she said. “He would practice; he would sing low so as not to bother anyone. But people would ask him to sing louder. That’s when I saw what an opportunity this was.”
Dunlap said that side effects from chemotherapy didn’t scare or bother her, although she did have severe lethargy on the weekends after her Wednesday treatments.
“I knew my hair would come out, so I had my sister-in-law, a beautician, cut it as short as possible,” she said. “One day, it just started coming out in the living room. I put my hand up to my head and it kept coming out. I didn’t want it all over the house, so I kept (rubbing) it to get it out. I went around and tried wearing hats, and I couldn’t do that. It made me hot.”
While waiting for one of her appointments, a bald Dunlap was approached by another female patient of SCOA.
“She said, ‘I wish I had your courage,’” Dunlap said. “I don’t think of myself as being a courageous person. God gave me hair. He took it away. I’m not going to worry about it. I knew what was going to happen. Same with my breasts. I didn’t define myself as a woman by having breasts or by my hair.”
Dunlap said her experience was made easier by having a supportive family both at home and at church.
“I have a very strong faith,” she said. “I believe when the doctor said he wanted to give me another 40 years, I said, ‘I’m going to live til I’m 87.’ That’s my philosophy. That’s how I am.”
Dunlap said the only thing she “bargained with God” about was having grandchildren.
“I didn’t have grandchildren at the time I was diagnosed; I wanted to see grandchildren,” she said. “Now, I have six.”
She said she also doesn’t like being called a “survivor,” although she understands that’s what she is.
“I don’t like to go around and say, ‘Look what I did. I beat cancer,’” she said. “I think it’s in everyone probably, and everyone has an equal chance of getting it. I just got fortunate to get this far.”
Dunlap is still taking a medication. She will have to for another few years.
“You have to take it for 10 years,” she said. “I’m not having any problems with it. I’m handling it.”