Every three minutes one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. But when caught early, the survival rate is 98 percent.
It is why each month we focus on stories of hope like Debra Downey.
Downey participated in her first triathlon in 1999 in honor of her mom, who died of bladder cancer. She never realized how much all that training would help until two years ago.
"I ran into something and got a bruise on the side of my rib cage,” she said. “I was trying to figure out why it hurt so bad, it was pretty good size bruise and I found a pea sized lump on the side of my left breast and I knew that wasn't normal."
Doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer but Downey didn't slow down.
"I never stopped training," said Downey.
She had a lumpectomy, and needed radiation, but because she caught the cancer early she was able to undergo mammosite therapy. It’s a form of radiation that’s delivered to the body by way of a catheter. The tubing has a small balloon on one end. Since 2002, 50,000 women have been treated using this type of therapy.
"The balloon is blown up with a syringe I would say to about the size of a quarter," she said. “The mammosite catheter went in I think the beginning of the third week of October well on November 1st I was signed up to do the Komen breast cancer run."
The radiation is transmitted directly to the tumor site. So instead of needing 6 and a half weeks of radiation, Downey did two treatments a day for a week.
Dr. Beth Hellerstedt of Texas Oncology said patients who undergo mammosite therapy can't have tumors that are too close to the skin.
"Usually this treatment is for patients who have small tumors, who have non-aggressive tumors under the microscope and those with a breast size large enough to accommodate it with good cosmetic results," said Dr. Hellerstedt.
Two years later, Downey’s doing great.
"A diagnosis of breast cancer is not like it used to be," she said.
In fact, when patients like Downey catch their cancer early they have a 98 percent survival rate. Studies have also shown exercise can help. Downey is a true believer in that.
"You need to stay active, stay moving and stay positive because it makes a difference," she said. “I feel like being healthy and active definitely helps your healing. I think you heal faster.”
Share your story
We’re always looking for inspiring breast cancer stories. If you’d like to share yours send Terri an e-mail.