By CHERIL VERNON
On her front porch, a glittery pink ribbon sign reminds all driving by that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and she is a breast cancer survivor.
On her black t-shirt written in pink are the words “Fight Like a Girl.”
This isn’t the first time around the block for Palestine breast cancer survivor Dodie Lee, who is recovering from recent reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy. It is her faith that keeps Lee optimistic despite two bouts with breast cancer and spurs her to encourage others diagnosed with cancer.
Employed by MOPAC Employee Credit Union in Palestine for 21 years as assistant manager, Lee is a familiar face to many.
Her first bout with breast cancer was in 2001 when she was diagnosed with stage 2 estrogen-positive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. Having DCIS can increase the risk of developing an invasive breast cancer later on.
“At the time, I chose to have a lumpectomy. I had four cycles of chemotherapy and six doses of radiation,” Lee said during an interview with the Herald-Press Thursday. “I’ve been cancer free until November 2011.”
This time, stage 2 cancer was found in her other breast, but it wasn’t estrogen-positive. She had a mastectomy on her left breast in January and four cycles of chemotherapy. Lee’s doctor is Dr. Svetislava Vukelja, M.D. of Tyler.
“They could not do a bilateral mastectomy because the right side had radiation and that would cause complications,” Lee said. “But in September, they did a mastectomy on that side.”
Lee said if she could do it over again, she would have done a bilateral mastectomy back in 2001.
“If I had 20/20 vision, I would have done that. But at the time, that’s what we thought was best,” Lee said.
With a strong faith in the Lord, Lee truly believed that her first time having breast cancer would be her last.
“I have to admit that despite my faith, I was gripped with fear. Then I had to go back to the basics and what I believe and I know the Lord has a reason for having me on this walk. Regardless of the walk, I know the Lord’s spirit and strength will get me through this,” Lee said. “I’m here, by the grace of God, I’m here.”
Lee gives credit to the overwhelming amount of support and encouragement she has received over the years from her husband Johnny, her family, friends, church and MOPAC co-workers and its board of directors.
“As my caretaker, my husband never missed an appointment the first time and hasn’t for the second. He is very supportive. He told me the first time I got cancer, ‘this isn’t your disease, this is our disease and we will fight it together.’”
Her church family at Trinity Church and her co-workers have helped out providing meals and sending cards — something she greatly appreciates.
“My family, friends and co-workers have just outpoured their love and support,” Lee said.
Lee’s daughters, Shelby Lee and Sheila Rodriguez, both in their 30s, have been there every step of the way — walking with their mom in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure 1 mile fun walk for the past nine years. They also participate in Anderson County’s Relay for Life.
“We went to Paint Palestine Pink last year and will do it again this year,” Lee said.
When Lee was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, she was optimistic from the beginning. Part of that was because she had faced the possibility of having breast cancer before.
Several months before her original diagnosis, a lump had been found, but it turned out to be benign.
“Waiting to get the results that first time we thought I had breast cancer, I can remember driving around the Loop crying,” Lee said. “I asked the Lord to help me get a grip. When I eventually was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, I thought ‘I can do this, we can fight this.’ I had confidence that everything would be fine.”
Knowing how it feels to be in their shoes, Lee said she doesn’t miss an opportunity to talk to a person she believes has cancer.
“I try to encourage them and let them know there is life after diagnosis,” Lee said. “Because of what I have been through, when I see someone I think has cancer, wearing a hat or bald, I approach them. There’s always something you can find to say to compliment them.”
For example, on a recent trip to her doctor’s office in Tyler, she tried to offer hope to a female patient who was upset that she couldn’t go on an upcoming trip she and her husband had planned to Peru.
“I encouraged her to not think about the trip, but to say ‘my trip is postponed.’ You need something to look forward to when you are ready,” Lee said. “When I got ready to leave that day, she called out to me. ‘Hey, Pinky, I wanted to say something. ‘My trip is not canceled. My trip is postponed.’ I’m hoping she is on her trip right now. If for no other reason, God gets the glory for what I am doing by touching the lives of others.”
At her last chemotherapy session in 2001, the doctor’s office staff told her they always have a party for the patient to celebrate.
“I dressed as a clown and brought a cake that year,” Lee said. “For my last chemo this time, I wore a pink wig and a pink boa. You have to laugh at yourself sometimes. Humor plays a big role in keeping positive.”
When her hair fell out from the cancer treatments, Lee asked her friend Helen Overton to buzz her head.
“We did that both times. I have fun with the different hats and scarves,” Lee said. “My hair is growing back nicely now, though it’s kind of curly.”
The best defense against breast cancer is self-breast exams and mammograms, Lee said.
“I believe it’s easier to do the self-breast exams when you lay down versus in the shower. Early detection is the key. If in the event of a diagnosis and the ‘c’ word, just be prepared to fight.”
Lee knows fighting cancer is tough, but believes the Lord will be beside her every step of the way.
“I hope I never get it again but I know it will be OK. We can’t understand everything in life. We may question, but I keep going back to the truth — He’ll never leave or forsake me,” Lee said.