Friday, October 9, 2015

Looking toward 2016: Dempsey to complete treatment in new year

Candace Dempsey, 42, has been battling
breast cancer since December 2014.
She hopes to complete her treatment in early 2016.
- Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller / Grove Sun
Kaylea M. Hutson-Miller • khutson@grovesun.com
Editor's Note: This is a part of a series of stories highlighting those impacted by breast cancer during the month of October, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month. This story originally appeared in the Friday, Oct. 9, issue of The Grove Sun.

Candace Dempsey never thought she would be come a patient.

As a nurse with the Cherokee Nation Sam Heider Community Clinic in Jay, Dempsey, 42, filled her time taking care of others.

Things changed in December 2014 when Dempsey was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

Dempsey's journey with breast cancer began on Dec. 17, when she found a lump in her left breast. Her medical provider, who was also her boss at the time, Janet Gorham, immediately sent her to have an ultrasound.

A series of tests quickly followed. On Dec. 30, Dempsey received the news. She had early stage three invasive ductal carcinoma.

It meant Dempsey, who until 2014, had been in relatively good health, became the first person in her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer.

Dempsey knows her cancer developed after March 2014, because she had her first, and only mammogram, which came back with clear results.

After her mammogram, Dempsey received an MNR vaccine, required by then employers. A reaction to the vaccine, depleted her immunity and platelets, sending her to the hospital for two lengthly stays.

While the diagnosis is not official, medical personnel suspect Dempsey's weakened immune system played a significant role in her cancer diagnosis.

"I was totally healthy before that," Dempsey said. "I only took a multi-vitamin. I didn't have any health problems."

As a nurse, Dempsey is a proponent of self-breast exams. She said she encourages all of her patients, as well as her children, do self-exams as needed.

It was during an exam, which came after feeling a twinge in her breast, that she discovered the lump.

"Somehow I knew it was cancer," Dempsey said. "If it's a fatty tumor or something, it will move. This lump was attached. It wouldn't move when I tried to lift it or move it."

Dempsey's cancer was aggressive. From the initial diagnosis to when her double mastectomy took place, it spread to at least one lymph node. Her doctors were able to remove all of the cancer during the surgery.

In March 2015, Dempsey began six months of chemotherapy treatment. She completed her last treatment on Sept. 17. Her hair, which fell out after the first treatment, has begun to grow back in a soft, downy fashion.

Next week, on Oct. 14, Dempsey is scheduled to have complete the next step in the reconstruction process. Her plastic surgeon plans to remove the expanders and put implants in during the procedure.

In November, Dempsey will begin 30 rounds of radiation. After the first of the year she hopes to complete the radiation, finish up her reconstruction and put breast cancer behind her.

Dempsey credits the support she received from fellow breast cancer survivors, Carrie Couch and Deanna Chenowith, for helping her navigate the last few months.

"They told me what to expect," Dempsey said, adding that Couch connected her with an online Facebook group of women navigating cancer.

She was also given a copy of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book, which has been called the "Bible for the newly diagnosed." It provided resources to help her as well.

Dempsey said the support of her husband, Otis, her children: Jordan, a college student, and Austin and Dallas, a junior and freshman at Grove High School respectively, and the young woman they are helping to raise, Autumn Baker, a junior at GHS, as well as her mother, Vickie Alexander, for helping her get through the past few months.

Her mother even took early retirement from her job in the courthouse in Bartlesville to help her travel to and from treatments.

In the midst of her treatment, Dempsey left her position at Grand Lake Medical Park, on Monkey Island, to join the staff of the Sam Heider Clinic.

Dempsey interviewed with Cherokee Nation in December, anticipating a career change. She was offered the nursing position after learning she had cancer.

Dempsey said she officials with the clinic encouraged her to not turn the job down because of her diagnosis. She started working at the clinic in May, in between her chemotherapy treatments.

Her new co-workers have held penny wars and done other things to help raise funds to help Delaware county women pay for mammograms and for annual checkups.

Dempsey credits her faith, as something which has helped her remain strong in the past year.

"I would encourage people to give it to God," Dempsey said. "Having a positive attitude really helps. It also helps to pray about it."

In addition to her family, Dempsey said her friends from Bible Baptist Church also helped provide support and encouragement.

Earlier this year, Dempsey underwent the genetic testing to determine the extent of her breast cancer. While the genetic testing came back negative, Dempsey knows her sons, and her niece, now run a higher risk to contract the disease.

"My advice, definitely do all of your screenings and mammograms," Dempsey said. "See your doctor on a regular basis.

"Get to know your body. If you realize something is abnormal, go get it checked out. It could be something very aggressive - and it might be too late [if you wait]."

She also tells people to become comfortable with their doctors. Dempsey said her breast surgeon, Dr. LaNette Smith, took time to answer her questions, make her feel comfortable, prayed with her before the surgery and after the surgery, made sure she was greeted with a vase of pink roses.

"If you don't feel comfortable, there's nothing wrong with getting a second opinion," Dempsey said. "You have to feel comfortable with the person who is going to be caring for you."

How To For Self Exams

The National Cancer Foundation makes the following recommendation for how a breast self-exam should be performed.

1) IN THE SHOWER

Using the pads of your fingers, move around your entire breast in a circular pattern moving from the outside to the center, checking the entire breast and armpit area. Check both breasts each month feeling for any lump, thickening, or hardened knot. Notice any changes and get lumps evaluated by your healthcare provider.

2) IN FRONT OF A MIRROR

Visually inspect your breasts with your arms at your sides. Next, raise your arms high overhead.

Look for any changes in the contour, any swelling, or dimpling of the skin, or changes in the nipples. Next, rest your palms on your hips and press firmly to flex your chest muscles. Left and right breasts will not exactly match—few women's breasts do, so look for any dimpling, puckering, or changes, particularly on one side.

3) LYING DOWN

When lying down, the breast tissue spreads out evenly along the chest wall. Place a pillow under your right shoulder and your right arm behind your head. Using your left hand, move the pads of your fingers around your right breast gently in small circular motions covering the entire breast area and armpit.

Use light, medium, and firm pressure. Squeeze the nipple; check for discharge and lumps. Repeat these steps for your left breast.

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