Breast Cancer Patient Shares Her Journey

Dana Watts paints an umbrella during an art therapy session at Fairview Hospital's cancer center.

When Dana Watts of Fairview Park first learned she had breast cancer, she was shocked. The mother-of-two never imagined she would get cancer. "My life was so wonderfully under control," she explained. "I lived a very healthy, active life. And there was no history of cancer in my family."

Dana was faithful in getting her annual mammogram and was surprised to feel a lump on her breast just five months after her last screening. She didn’t even have any symptoms.

“Dana exemplifies the perfect patient,” said Mita Patel, MD, breast surgeon at Fairview Hospital’s Cancer Center. “Due to her own discovery during a self-breast exam, we were able to treat her promptly. She is one of the few who still does her breast exam regularly and it probably saved her life.”

Two surgeries, chemotherapy, and 19 radiation treatments later, Dana credits her entire team of experts at Cleveland Clinic’s Fairview Hospital Cancer Center. “I really trusted the folks at Fairview Hospital to take great care of me,” said Dana. “I’m grateful for all of their support. They have been wonderful to me.”

As a psychologist practicing in Rocky River, Dana always felt she had to keep it all together. "I had to be strong for everyone else. The extension of that is that you don’t let others in. Cancer made me realize that in some ways, I had walled myself in and was keeping people out, including family and friends. It wasn’t good for me."

While undergoing treatment at Fairview Hospital, Dana learned about the monthly art therapy group session offered at the cancer center and decided to try it.

She attended a session in which participants were asked to paint umbrellas (which can protect us from rain or sun) to symbolize how they protect themselves in relationships. Dana immediately started to paint her umbrella with a bright red brick wall on one half, and a colorful blooming garden on the other. She explained the brick half represented the "wall" she hit when she was first diagnosed as well as her former self - totally in control and self-sufficient. The garden portion of the umbrella, however, represented the changes she’s made since she was diagnosed. She no longer tries to be totally self-sufficient and has opened herself up to the gifts offered by those closest to her.

That much-needed support from family and friends along with her medical team at Fairview’s Cancer Center has been a lifeline to Dana as she continues dealing with her diagnosis. Despite its challenges, Dana’s illness has prompted an awakening of sorts.

It has forced her to give up the appearance of having it all together and to begin relying on the people in her life. “I have to learn to let myself accept help and support,” said Dana. I don't always have to be strong. I don't have to have it all under control. If I'm sad, I cry. If I’m scared, there’s always somebody I can talk to." She’s especially thankful for one Fairview nurse, Michele Ljubi, who called her every week to offer support and answer all of her questions and address her concerns - no matter how big or small.

Dana’s advice to other women? “Make sure you get your mammogram every year and do self-breast exams in between. It saved my life. If you are dealing with breast cancer, get a team you can trust to take good care of you and offer the support you need.” 

Reminder: October is breast cancer awareness month.

Angela Smith

Angela Smith is Manager, Corporate Communications, at the Cleveland Clinic.

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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 1:32 PM, 10.11.2015