Debbie’s teaching them how to win a battle…

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Don’t put the Screening Off

Family and coworkers reminded Debbie Dunning of Tamms that she had reached the age to have a yearly mammogram. Working at Anna Rural Health in Dongola, she no doubt had heard the message many times. Typical of many women who are busy with family, work and life, Debbie put it off. After all, she wasn’t feeling bad today.

In 2008, however, she felt a lump. Even then, she didn’t think it would be anything to worry about. Things were about to change.

Starting the Process

Debbie had her first mammogram at age 48 at Union County Hospital in Anna. Having gotten most of her other health care in Cape Girardeau, Debbie was unfamiliar when her primary care physician recommended she go to The Breast Center in Carbondale for follow-up. She was quickly routed there for a biopsy. The news was not good.

Behind the Scenes


Following the diagnosis of breast cancer, Debbie had not anticipated that an entire team of doctors would be working on her case. Through the SIH Cancer Institute’s Affiliated Physicians, a special breast cancer team of physicians review all the images and pathology results, then developing her personalized treatment plan as a group. For Debbie, treatment would require the full scope: lumpectomy, 33 radiation visits and eight chemotherapy visits.

She had a hard road ahead, but it’s her family that really gave her the will to fight. With a husband, one grown daughter, two adopted teenage sons, and two grandsons, it was her mission to survive.

Debbie also found an advocate in Donna Crow, the Breast Center’s, patient navigator, was a blessing. “My goal with all patients is to decrease their fears and ensure they never feel alone, said Donna.”

Through determination and the will to fight, Debbie came through the ordeal with flying colors.

The Second Round


Recovery from a cancer diagnosis means regular checkups. In December 2012, Debbie had a visit with Dr. George Kao, radiation oncologist. She enjoyed her visits with Dr. Kao because of his fun demeanor and after 33 radiation visits previously, they got to know each other quite well. “We have a great relationship. He always smiles, but suddenly I could see it in his face. He wasn’t smiling anymore,” said Debbie. He had discovered another lump under the arm.

“I was so scared, but at the same time so thankful. If it wasn’t for this appointment, I would have never known the cancer was back.”

This time, her physician team recommended a more aggressive approach and in March, Debbie had a mastectomy on her right side with Dr. Marsha Ryan. Donna, the navigator supported her through the whole time. “I just love Donna,” said Debbie, “she was even there with me through the surgery.”

Staying Healthy

Now free of the cancer, she is a survivor and much more conscientious about her health. “After an experience like this, you often wonder, ‘what do I do now to stay healthy.’” Luckily she very much appreciates the new Rehab Unlimited cancer rehabilitation program, a unique program offered through SIH with an outpatient clinic in nearby Anna. “They’ve taught me several exercises that I can do to stay healthy.”

Cancer has given her a new perspective on life. She feels she can offer great support to those she meets in her job who also are surviving cancer. “I feel so blessed and so thankful.” She’s lived through a battle and is showing others how to win.