Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va. — Each October, Fort Eustis Fire Department personnel don pink shirts to raise awareness for breast cancer, but this year the cause hits close to home as a member of their team, Donna Haynes, was recently diagnosed with the disease.
“At some point in your life, you will know someone who has cancer, and breast cancer is a huge issue, so if we can help the cause or bring awareness to it, why not do something,” said Dale E. Hankins, 733rd Civil Engineer Division Fort Eustis Fire and Emergency Services fire chief. “This year it’s personal to everyone here at the fire department. There isn’t anyone in our flight who doesn’t know Donna–she’s very outgoing and is so caring that she would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it.”
Haynes, who has worked at Fort Eustis for 24 years and has been a part of the Civil Engineer Division for 17 years, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer on Sept. 24, 2015.
According to Haynes, she was lucky the abnormality was even found during her annual mammogram as it was roughly 8 millimeters in diameter and hidden at the back of the breast plate, making it difficult to locate.
“They said if I wasn’t doing my mammograms, it would be several years before I’d even be able to feel the lump – it was that tiny,” said Haynes. “The oncologist said it was amazing the technician even saw it because it was so far back and so small. If it was in there any longer, we’d be looking at a different stage of cancer. I’d be at a Stage 3 or a Stage 4 where your chances of survival are whole lot less than they are at a Stage 1.”
Haynes starts her first step in treatment this month with the tumor removal. After the extraction, the doctors will test her lymph nodes to determine whether the cancer has affected them, which determines whether she remains a Stage 1 patient or becomes a Stage 2. At Stage 1, she currently faces four chemotherapy treatments.At Stage 2 those treatments double. As soon as the chemotherapy is complete, she will go through 33 days of radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Haynes knows she faces weeks of having barely enough strength to get out of bed coupled with more complications ranging from nausea to severe pain as the chemotherapy attacks not only the cancer, but her entire immune system. With that ahead, she has times where she has to sit and catch her breath, overwhelmed with thoughts of scenarios she could encounter. But the fear subsides when Haynes reminds herself that she is the one in control, not the cancer.
“I still have my moments; I’ll sit and this overwhelming feeling will come, and I’ll have my crying moments,” Haynes said. “I’m scared, mad and overwhelmed with everything, but you have to get past those. I’m dealing with it, and I am going to fight it the whole way. You can’t let the bad eat you up because trying to do your treatments isn’t going to work as well when you’re in a down situation.”
When she can’t hold back her tears and lets them roll down her face while in her car or shower, Haynes tells herself, “It’s okay this is just a thing that I am going to get through and take care of.”
What makes it easier is that she isn’t taking care of it alone, Haynes said. Her support comes from not only her family, including her daughter and coworkers, but also from her bowling team and church groups who display their individual acts of support through prayer, awareness campaigns or hugs.
“If you’re alone and you don’t have people to talk to about it or be there just to be there, you will get in that depressed state,” said Hayes. “And, it helps to talk not just for support, but to educate others.”
As Haynes enters the beginning phase of her recovery, rather than considering her diagnosis a setback, she’ll use her experience and knowledge as a tool to educate and advocate the importance of prevention from a battler’s perspective.