Manager of Jazzman’s beats breast cancer

By Jillian Smith
October 13, 2006

Heidi Huffnagle, the retail brand manager of Jazzman’s and Sandella’s, was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast in June 2005. Through her recovery, she remained strong and is able to tell her story.

The most common cancer in women, besides skin cancer, breast cancer is a malignant tumor that starts from the cells of the breast. Huffnagle was thought to have at least five spots that looked cancerous.

“When I was first diagnosed, I kept a level head,” Huffnagle said, “but my family freaked out. My sisters are both doctors, so they see it all and know it all.”

Doctors tell women to start getting yearly mammogram exams at the age of 40, it was only Huffnagle’s second mammogram ever. “I’m only 41,” she said.

“I pretty much said, this is what it is, this is what I have to do.” A week after being diagnosed with breast cancer, her mastectomy, when the whole breast is removed, was scheduled.

After her left breast was removed, doctors found that there was only one small spot in the breast that was cancerous. “You couldn’t feel it; it was really small. The MRI tends to over read the report,” Huffnagle said, “but I feel pretty good about the decision I made.”

Doctors replaced the removed breast with an implant. Muscles from her back were stretched around her body to her breast bone, so the implant could be placed somewhere. She went through physical therapy to help stretch the muscle. Huffnagle, a pretty active person, would rip her stitches several times because she wouldn’t listen to the doctors when they told her not to be active.

Huffnagle then started chemotherapy in November 2005 for three to four weeks. She was on three different drugs for 18 weeks. “Aside from losing my hair and being tired all the time, it wasn’t really that awful of an ordeal.”

Huffnagle said that because of the new medical advances that have come to pass over the years for breast cancer, she wasn’t deathly ill. “They now have drugs for everything, like an upset stomach or when your white blood cell count is down,” which is why she says she wasn’t so sick.

Now that the breast is removed, Huffnagle says she is 99.9 percent cured of breast cancer. The earlier you catch it, the better. “I guess I definitely have higher odds of getting [breast cancer] again,” but she feels that she probably won’t get it again because doctors were able to catch her case early.

However, women who have had breast cancer are at higher risk for ovarian cancer and colon cancer.

After being diagnosed, Huffnagle went and got gene tested to make sure that everyone else in her family was safe and that it wasn’t hereditary. Her testing said that her family was safe. However, “there are only two genes they test from, but there are millions of genes, so it’s not 100 percent accurate.”

There really isn’t a set factor as to what causes breast cancer. Huffnagle said her breast cancer “could have been from anything, the environment, my eating habits, I don’t know.”

Over the year, Huffnagle went to three different doctors. To help her remember all of their information, and all the questions she had, she started a notebook right after she was diagnosed.

“I had great support of family and friends and that was enough for me. I wasn’t really a basket case. I didn’t seek a support group. I felt okay.”

In June 2006, it was her one year clear of cancer. In November, it will be a year since the chemotherapy. “The whole experience came and went.”

However, in June of 2006, an abnormality was found again in her breast. After testing, it was said that it was fine, and nothing was truly wrong.

Huffnagle is pretty much back to normal. “I’m trying to grow my hair back,” she said. She’s active and back to her job doing what she does best, running Jazzman’s and Sandella’s.

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Jillian Smith

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