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Targeting Cancer: Breast cancer survivor shares lessons learned from cancer

Brenda Mills

Each October, pink ribbons can be found in abundance throughout communities to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the Eugene-Springfield area, colorful bras also appear, decorated by those participating in the Bras for Cause campaign, which provides financial assistance to cancer patients through Oregon Cancer Foundation.

For many Bras for Cause participants, cancer hits close to home—either they know someone who’s experienced it, or they’ve been personally affected, like Brenda Mills. She was diagnosed in June of 2016 with stage 2 triple negative breast cancer.

“I was devastated; I was hopeless,” Brenda says. “I think I went through every emotion that I could possibly have gone through in a matter of just moments. I was scared.”

What began as a frightening diagnosis changed and reshaped Brenda in ways she would never have imagined. She volunteered to share her story, hoping that she might be able to offer hope to those newly diagnosed with the disease. What she never expected was that cancer would change her so profoundly, for the better.

An unexpected journey

Brenda quickly discovered that she was not fighting her battle alone. She had her family and friends by her side, and she also had the support of her surgical team at Northwest Surgical Specialists and medical oncology team at Willamette Valley Cancer Institute, which provided her with a detailed treatment plan.

“They walk with you. I’m not on this path alone. Every step I have taken has been guided,” Brenda says.

Recovery from surgery was slow, but at a follow-up appointment weeks later, Brenda received excellent news from medical oncologist Matthew Lonergan.

“Am I cancer-free?” she asked.

“You are technically cancer-free,” he answered, words that he and Brenda promptly celebrated with an elated high five.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to tell someone that they don’t have to deal with their cancer in the same way they were dealing with it as part of their body, looking at it every day, feeling it every day, and just knowing that it is gone. It’s an honor to tell people they are cancer-free,” says Dr. Lonergan.

Brenda says, as crazy as it may sound, breast cancer changed her life for the better and opened her eyes to things she hadn’t noticed before.

“I feel like cancer was meant to be in my life. I may not have grasped it gracefully in the beginning, but it’s taught me how I want to live my life today. It’s definitely taught me patience, and that I’m stronger than I have ever known myself to be. I’m not afraid of cancer anymore.”

Supporting other survivors

Brenda is participating in this year’s Bras for Cause campaign, along with her surgical and medical oncology teams.

This year’s bra creations are on display at brasforcause.org and voting runs through Oct. 31. $1 equals one vote, and you can vote as many times as you’d like. All proceeds support Lane County cancer patients through the Oregon Cancer Foundation.

“Not only are we able to come together for such a great cause, raising money that stays in our community, but we know that money is helping patients during a time in their lives that is both emotionally and financially difficult. We are truly blessed to live in a community where there is help, and there is hope.”

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