Photo above: Alicia Wynn was diagnosed with cancer at 33 years old. She has gone through surgery and chemotherapy. Photo by Paul Nurnberg.
Editor’s note: This is the second of two stories on local breast cancer survivors in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is held every October.
By Marie McAden
At just 33 years old, Alicia Wynn never imagined she would be battling breast cancer. Far younger than the age recommended for annual mammograms, she didn’t want to believe the lump she discovered in her right breast could be a malignant tumor.
But when the lump got bigger, she grew concerned and decided to schedule a mammogram at the Beaufort Memorial Breast Health Center. The imaging test was followed by an ultrasound and then a biopsy at the hospital.
“I was so scared,” the St. Helena Island resident said. “I didn’t want it to be cancer.”
There was no denying it once she got the call from Beaufort Memorial board-certified general surgeon Dr. Perry Burrus. The mother of three had stage 2 lobular breast cancer.
As soon as the diagnosis was confirmed, the Breast Health Center nurse navigator arranged for Wynn to meet with three specialists who would be treating her cancer, and attended those appointments with her.
“In some places, they first perform surgery to remove the tumor, then stop to think of options” said BMH board-certified oncologist Dr. Majd Chahin. “Here, we all meet with the patient and then get together to decide the best course of action.”
Taking a team approach to her treatment was especially important with Wynn because her tumor tested positive for HER2, a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells.
“With HER2-positive breast cancer, you get a better outcome if you have chemotherapy before surgery,” Chahin said. “Six to seven out of 10 patients experience complete remission.”
The chemo and surgery would be followed by 45 radiation treatments. Wynn knew she was in for a long, unpleasant ride. But she wouldn’t make the journey alone. Her family and fiancée were there to support her all along the way.
Her mother accompanied her to most of the chemo treatments. The powerful drugs caused a number of side effects, including vomiting and diarrhea. On day 12, just as she was getting ready to attend her 5-year-old’s kindergarten graduation, her hair began to fall out. Once she got through the event, she decided to shave her head.
“My fiancé and brother shaved their heads, too. It made me so happy because I felt like they were in it with me.”
Her kids were equally supportive. They made posters encouraging her to get through the treatment and beat the cancer.
It wasn’t long after she began the chemo that she noticed the size of the lump in her breast was diminishing. By the time she completed the treatment, she couldn’t feel it anymore.
“She had a fabulous response to the chemo,” Burrus said. “She came in with a pretty large tumor and it was gone.”
To ensure there was no residual disease in her breast, she underwent a lumpectomy and radiation therapy.
“Everyone at the hospital was so amazing,” Wynn said. “They prayed for me and cried with me. They helped me get through it. I’m so happy the way everything turned out.”
To schedule your mammogram, call 843-522-5015.