Advocating For Herself and Her Community: A Q&A With Lana Dunn
Lana Dunn, a 21-year U.S. Army service member, wife and mother of two, was diagnosed with stage III triple-negative breast cancer in 2013, at age 37. Despite aggressive treatment, in 2015 the cancer spread to her lungs and liver, and in 2016 it spread to her spine.
Lana is a member of Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s Young Advocate Program, which provides the tools and training to help women diagnosed before age 45 use their personal breast cancer experience to make a difference in their communities, further their understanding of the disease and advocate for others.
Lana answered questions about her breast cancer experience from LBBC’s writer and content coordinator, Erin Rowley.
How did it feel to have been diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age?
Because I was away from home at a military training school, I didn’t really get a chance to thoroughly think about the diagnosis. Once I returned home, I immediately started treatment. Things were moving so fast, it kept me from dealing with the emotions and feelings that come with a cancer diagnosis. For my first four rounds of chemo, I worked as if things were normal. When I started losing my hair, reality set in and I was overwhelmed with feelings and emotions. All I could think about was, “Am I strong enough to beat cancer?” and, “Will I be alive to see my kids grow up?” and, “Will I be the same person when it’s all over?”
As my treatment moved forward, I found it necessary to seek mental health therapy because I could not control my thoughts or feelings. One minute things were great and a minute later, I would break down and cry. It wasn’t until I met with a mental health therapist that I came to terms with my diagnosis and realized that I was in a mourning state of mind. I was mourning the loss of who I was and worried about who I would be when the treatment was over.
I didn’t even know what metastatic breast cancer was until my diagnosis.
How have you approached talking to your children about breast cancer?
Initially, I did not tell the kids. But as the treatment started to affect my body, I could no longer hide it from them. They were so young when I was diagnosed and I didn’t know if they would understand, and they didn’t. I purchased a children’s book about cancer, and the kids and I read the book. I also left the line of communication open. We started family meetings and decided that any time they had a question, concern or wanted to talk about it more, anyone could call a family meeting.
In your experience, does the African-American community look at or talk about breast cancer, and metastatic breast cancer in particular, differently than other groups? If so, how?
In my experience, there is not a lot of talk in the African-American community about breast cancer or metastatic breast cancer. In fact, I didn’t even know what metastatic breast cancer was until my diagnosis. I am the first in my family, on both sides, to have breast cancer. I also think that education and awareness is lacking in our community, and because of that, there are a lot of late-stage diagnoses.
Why is volunteering for organizations like LBBC important to you?
LBBC is a great organization and a great resource. Volunteering with LBBC gives me another outlet to share my journey and help educate those who are not getting their annual checkups or doing breast self-exams. LBBC provides me with the education and tools to advocate on several different levels. If I had not volunteered for LBBC, I would not have known about all the ways to advocate. Volunteering also gives me the ability reach out to the African-American community, helping educate them and provide resources.
Do you have any advice for other women dealing with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis?
My advice to other women dealing with metastatic breast cancer is
- listen to your body. If it tells you or shows something that is not normal for you, seek medical attention.
- become a well-informed patient. Being knowledgeable about your cancer and your treatment helps you help your medical team. Breast cancer treatment is individualized. What works for one person may not work for you. Being informed also helps you to understand what your medical team is telling you.
- research, research, research. Familiarize yourself with medical terms, clinical trials, etc.
- you are your own best advocate. When you have stage IV breast cancer, you have to find the balance between treatment and quality of life, and only you can make the decision about your quality of life.
- lastly, there is always something worth fighting for. Remember that when things get tough or your emotions and bad thoughts try to consume you. Figure out what is worth fighting for, and if you don’t fight for anybody else or any other reason, fight for that very thing.