SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Darlene Mazur, 47, of Shelby Township, did not expect to get breast cancer, especially after genetic testing turned out negative following her mother’s death from breast cancer at age 50.
“My chances were just like everyone else,” she said.
However, 14 years later, in January 2011, Mazur discovered two lumps when performing a self breast exam. She said she felt ill and a little more rundown than usual, and that something was telling her something was not quite right.
Doctors at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital monitored Mazur, performed a biopsy in March and confirmed that it was cancer on April 1 — her wedding anniversary.
“Initially, I felt shock, because you try to do everything right. You try to eat right and exercise and reduce your stress, but it doesn’t matter — you’re still the one in eight (women who gets breast cancer),” she said. “There’re so many factors. You can’t just sit there and blame yourself. You just have to take the new situation, and it empowers you and you move forward.”
That month, doctors removed six or seven tumors.
At the end of April, Mazur said she opted to have a double mastectomy, even though the tumors were just in one side, because doctors had seen how aggressive the cancer had been in one side.
“You’re going to worry every time you feel a little lump,” she said. “For me, it was just one shot. I wasn’t going to take the chance of it.”
Mazur then faced chemotherapy and radiation while working midnights as a nurse at St. John Hospital, but she left her position to focus on recovering and spending time with her family. Her positive attitude, however, never faltered.
“Yes, I lost my hair, but it grew back,” she said, and added that she was thankful the cancer did not enter her lymph nodes, where it then could have spread to other organs.
“(My doctors were) absolutely the best. I never felt like I wanted to run out of the office and go find someone else,” Mazur said. “I was completely comforted by the way they listened, and they also explained everything. They were very candid because I asked them to be. They saved my life.”
After her double mastectomy, Mazur went through an intensive reconstruction process, which lasted through 2012, with Vik Reddy, a Henry Ford Macomb Hospital plastic surgeon.
“One of the biggest things was her positive attitude,” Reddy said. “Her being a nurse also served her well in a lot of ways and made her a very strong advocate for breast cancer, as well as talking to patients going through treatment or reconstruction.”
Reddy said Mazur was very knowledgeable about the subject, showed no apprehension or self-consciousness going into reconstructive surgery and, fortunately, had no complications.
“Surveillance is very, very important,” he advised. “Pick a surgeon that you trust and you jell with.”
Mazur said she loves nursing and taking care of other people, but she is stepping back and will return to work when she is ready.
Life, she said, can change in a moment and throw you off balance, but as long as you have a support system, faith, inner strength and good doctors, you can get through it.
Mazur is now going to the gym regularly with her husband and spending more down time with her three children. She is also preparing to move to Bruce Township, where she and her family are building their dream house that they’ve contemplated for 15 years.
One of Mazur’s goals is to teach dance again. She said she used to teach young children in a studio in the basement of her Macomb Township residence, but she quit when she became sick.
She said the main lesson her ordeal has taught her is to slow down and take time with family, instead of constantly being on the go, shuffling from one thing to the next.
“Sometimes, we need to get off the hamster wheel, breathe and regroup,” she said.
She still regularly sees her oncologist for X-rays and blood tests, but she said she feels positive about the future, especially with the advances in technology since her mother had breast cancer.
Mazur said she hopes her story will inspire other women of all ages to at least perform self breast examinations monthly.
“I just want other women to be aware and not be afraid. They can take that fear and change it into control and be in control of themselves,” she said. “That’s what I did and what I needed.”
Mark Segel, an interventional breast radiologist and medical director of mammography at Henry Ford Macomb Hospitals, said there are mixed messages about how often women should be getting mammograms and at what age they should start.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends screening every two years for all women ages 50 to 74, while the American Cancer Society recommends yearly screening for all women ages 40 and older.
Segel said having a healthy diet and not smoking, eating red meat or drinking alcohol can reduce the risk of breast cancer. He said that women should have a yearly mammogram after age 40.
A free class Oct. 3 titled “Breast Health and Beyond” will be held from 6:30-9 p.m. for those wishing to find out more about breast cancer screening and diagnosis, preventing osteoporosis, managing hormone fluctuations and how nutrition, exercise and weight loss are key factors in breast cancer prevention. A light dinner will be served. Register by Sept. 30 by calling (800) 532-2411.
The class takes place in the Education and Conference Center, located on the fourth floor of the medical pavilion adjacent to the hospital, which is located at 15855 10 Mile Road, between Hayes and Garfield roads, in Clinton Township.