Rainbows, Butterflies… and Cancer
Survivor Michele Dador fought the disease with the support of her faith, family and friends.
A few months after her 40th birthday, Michele Dador had her first mammogram. She was told not to be alarmed if contacted for a retake, since it was her first screening. Sure enough she received a call—and scheduled a rescreening at Advocate Condell Medical Center on July 11, 2013. After the procedure, she was informed there were signs of abnormalities and she needed to have biopsies on both breasts the next day.
Michele felt calm when she went in for the biopsies. It wasn’t until the early morning hours of July 16—the day she expected to learn the results—that she was uneasy. She couldn’t sleep, so she opened her Our Daily Bread devotional booklet to a page where the author reflected on a bout with cancer. “I said, God, I think you are talking to me,” remembers Michele. “And when I randomly opened another booklet to a page on which the writer recalls her sister’s cancer diagnosis, I knew.”
After crying and finally falling asleep, Michele woke around 9 am to her phone’s repetitive automated announcement that “Advocate Condell” was calling. Her results were in.
A Diagnosis and a Decision
Michele contacted her husband, Chris, at work and asked him to meet her in the parking lot at Condell Medical Center. The pamphlets on the chair when they walked in to the room delivered the message as quickly as her breast health navigator did—it was cancer.
“As a third-grade teacher, my world is rainbows and butterflies and unicorns—and this is not,” states Michele. “My immediate thought was that I need to feel as good as I can, as fast as I can, to return to normal.”
Michele was scheduled for sentinel lymph node surgery—to determine if the cancer had spread and what she would be facing—with Paul Strohmayer, MD. The results revealed that she had invasive lobular carcinoma, grade 1, stage IIB; and it had invaded two lymph nodes. Michele also underwent genetic counseling offered through Condell’s Cancer Resource Center, which indicated that she did not inherit breast cancer. With this knowledge, Michele and Chris made the decision that she would undergo a double mastectomy.
After spending her summer vacation doing “homework” to learn about breast cancer, her treatment options and what to expect in the coming months, Michele returned to work as scheduled at the start of the school year. She planned to work through treatment, so she wanted to have the opportunity to meet her new class and to hold a meeting with school administrators, students and families to explain the journey she was about to begin.
On September 11, 2013, Michele and Chris held a party with their family, friends and pastor. It took place in a hospital room at Condell Medical Center—just before Michele was wheeled into surgery to undergo the double mastectomy and to begin reconstructive surgery with Drs. Paul Strohmayer and Aras Tijunelis, respectively. “It was the day my own twin towers came down,” says Michele. “But I wasn’t scared because I have the best group of docs. Condell is phenomenal and so are its people and services.”
Michele took off work for three and a half weeks to recover. The next month she started four rounds of chemotherapy as part of a study at an academic medical institution—completing treatment the day after Christmas. Then followed 28 doses of radiation from January to March 2014.
Faith and Healing
In July, Michele had her second reconstructive surgery at Condell and hopes to have the last two before the end of the year. “I set three priorities to get through this process: health, normalcy and mental well-being,” she shares. “And God sent me all the signs I needed—taking care of me in so many ways.” In addition to garnering strength from her faith and positive attitude, Michele had tremendous support from her family, friends, co-workers and students. She also blogged to document her journey.
“Chris and I have said from the beginning, ‘It is what it is,’” says Michele. “However we modified our mantra and now we positively proclaim, ‘It is what you are.’” And she is, no doubt, a survivor.
First published: Fall 2014