Austinmer woman and breast cancer surviver Daniella Lavan has been to hell and back and has now launched a campaign to save other women from the same fate.
The Mammogram Challenge aims to make woman and men aware of the importance of mammograms and early detection, because one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and 9 out of 10 of those have no family history of the disease, so they won’t see it coming.
Diagnosed two years ago, Daniella’s story is testament to her will to live.
She says after finding out she had Stage 3 Breast Cancer, she’s had a double masectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, hysterectomy, 100s of blood tests, invasive tests, lymphedema, blood transfusions, muscle and skin cut from her back for a dorsal flap reconstruction and she still has one more operation to go.
All that could have been avoided if it had been caught earlier.
“I want women and men to nominate those they love and care for to participate in this challenge,” she says. “All you have to do is have a mammogram, donate $5 to Breast Cancer Research, then nominate three or more friends to do the same.
“If they don’t want a mammogram, then their challenge is to donate $20 to research into the disease, then nominate three more friends to do the challenge. The more friends nominated, the more women the campaign will reach and the more lives will be saved. That’s my personal challenge!”
After losing her own mother at the age of 48, Daniella found a lump, which was diagnosed as solid fibrous tissue and of no concern. Four months later, she felt unwell and noticed the lump had doubled in size.
Finding out it was Stage 3 Breast Cancer in September of 2014, Daniella opted for a double mastectomy. “My boobs had been good to me over the years, but now they were trying to kill me, so I wanted them off as quickly as possible. I’ve never once looked back or regretted my decision.”
A barrage of further testing revealed the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, which meant 14 had to be removed, eight of them full of cancer, leaving Daniella with lymphodema, a lifelong condition.
Two weeks later chemotherapy began, which saw her lose all of her pretty blonde hair. “It was very hard to deal with,” she says. “I found it really confronting when I looked in the mirror. I really felt like a cancer victim.
Testing revealed Daniella does carry the BRCA 1 gene. This is an inherited mutation which puts her at high risk of also suffering ovarian cancer. Both of Daniella’s sisters also tested positive. “Knowledge is power,” she says. “Whatever precautions need to be taken can now happen a lot sooner.”
A fortnight after chemo, Daniella faced six weeks of daily radiation, followed by a hysterectomy.
Daniella had ‘expanders’ inserted during the mammogram, with the view to reconstruction. Within a week of getting home after her reconstruction, Daniella’s right breast started to split open. Thinking all it needed was a few stitches, she was devastated to learn she was to be cut from her spine around to her chest, involving a huge chunk of muscle and skin.
“So this ladies is the lesson, “she says. “You do not have to go through what I’ve been through. A feel a day keeps the doctor away. Get your boobs checked!
“Please like the page,” she says, “And nominate and donate as much as you can!”