On Your Health

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The Fighter: Meet Dana Hoppers

For nearly three years, Dana Hoppers of Oklahoma City has battled metastatic breast cancer that has spread to her liver and her bones. The diagnosis is a tough one, and the prognosis is as well, and she knows that. But every day she stays positive, she keeps going for her walks, and keeps surrounding herself with the friends and family she loves so much.

Even in the beginning, she was a fighter. Back when she was diagnosed, she made a decision to keep working. She wouldn’t let cancer force her to give up her career or her coworkers, who were also dear friends. And since she retired last June after 22 years at her job, she’s taken up volunteering at the INTEGRIS infusion lab to help other people receiving chemotherapy.

In many ways, because her cancer has spread, she and her doctors are only “chasing” her cancer, but even so, her tumor count has shrunk dramatically. When one chemo medication stops working, her indefatigable physician team finds another. For Dana, the most important thing is to keep fighting, to keep trying new treatments, and to keep living above all else.

"I’ll fight until the very end," she says. "Usually, they give you five to seven years with metastatic breast cancer, but my attitude is: This is God’s story for me, and no one else. So I keep going. I keep a positive mindset. I refuse to just do nothing and sit on the couch like a bump on the log."

Breast cancer remains the most common cancer in women worldwide, both in developed and developing countries. Roughly 1.38 million new cases and 458,000 deaths from breast cancer occur each year, according to the World Health Organization.

As we wrap up October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we at the On Your Health blog want to highlight a breast cancer fighter like Dana Hoppers. Dana hopes that by fighting breast cancer with everything she has, she can encourage others who are in a similar situation to fight with all their strength, too.

Dana’s cancer journey started with her family

Dana knew she was a high risk for breast cancer because her mother had it 45 years ago. Her aunt also had it and a cousin died from breast cancer.

"My mom had one breast removed 45 years ago, and she’s turning 90 at the end of the month," Dana says. "Because of the history in my family, I knew I was high risk, so I had mammograms every year since age 40 and never skipped it."

But sometimes cancer can move quick. In the span of one year, Dana developed breast cancer. By the time her annual mammogram and then follow-up tests were done and diagnosis was confirmed, the cancer had already spread to her liver.

"It was a total and complete shock. I was used to being called back after a mammogram, but this time it was so bad," Dana says. "I was in a complete panic."

Dana’s plan to fight breast cancer

Dana began seeing oncologist Dr. Brian Geister at the INTEGRIS Cancer Institute. She wasn’t a candidate for a mastectomy because the cancer had already spread, and she wasn’t put on radiation either. Instead, they decided to fight the cancer with chemotherapy.

"Dr. Geister always tells me the truth. He told me it was bad, but he also said he had an arsenal of tools to fight it with," Dana says. "We did find the cancer early, I just had a very aggressive form of it."

As for the details, "I had 13 lesions in my liver, one in my breast and then the cancer moved into my bones." says Dana. "I started with a strong chemo they call 'The Red Devil' in my first round."

Chemotherapy was tough. In fact, Dana thinks it was the toughest thing she's ever had to face. After such strong treatment, Dana developed congestive heart failure and had to wear a defibrillator for six months. She'll be on heart meds for the rest of her life.

But instead of giving up, she committed to continue living her life, including going to her work at a Sonic franchise office. Her coworkers and boss supported her through some bad times, and she never regretted continuing with work. "I got terrific support from the people around me," she says.

Dana’s life today

Dana plays with her six grandchildren and relies on her husband, who she’s been married to for more than 44 years. And she continues to fight her cancer, staying nimble while the tactics to battle her cancer constantly change. New treatments and medications come out quickly, almost faster than Dana can keep up with, she says. But she has had success. As of today, her liver has gone from 13 lesions to only two, and the lesions in her bones have healed.

When she retired, Dana looked for a way to stay connected to people and give back for the blessings she’s received. She now volunteers in the infusion lab where her the chemotherapy is administered.

"One of my favorite things is to sit with someone who is there for the first time," Dana says. "You can tell because you can see that panic. You can see that panic on the face of their spouse, too. I tell them, 'Hey, I’ve been through 15 rounds of this stuff and look at me! I’m still here!'"

Dana thinks the most important thing women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer can do is give themselves time to adjust, to make way for the healing to happen. "Find what works for you to relieve stress and make you feel brighter. I do yoga, acupuncture, take walks, use CBD oil," she says. She walks around Lake Hefner if she starts to feel down and enjoys being social with friends and neighbors.

"I used to walk up to the doors of the cancer center and just stop. I really didn't want to walk in there. But I took that first step inside, and then another one. Yes, chemo is hard, it’s really hard. You must give yourself permission to take some time to adjust to your new reality. You'll get there if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and not giving up, like me."

At 65, Dana is still committed to fully living her life. She hasn’t had hair for three years, but she’s learned to enjoy the freedom of wearing whatever wig she likes that day. 

"You have to do what you can to keep going. And do what your doctor tells you to do," she says. "I don’t always feel great, but I’m going to keep going. Find what works for you, because you can go down a dark hole real quick if you don’t."

Above all else, she implores all women to get yearly mammograms and do monthly breast self-checks. "It's so important to find it early," she says.

As for herself, "I really do think they will cure cancer one day. But until then, I’m going to keep taking it one day at a time," she says. "It’s all about the attitude!"

Dana, along with two other Brave & Beautiful breast cancer survivors, was featured in The Oklahoman on Oct. 27. Click here to read the inspirational article, or click here to watch the video.

The INTEGRIS Cancer Institute in Oklahoma City offers one of the foremost collections of physicians along with state-of-the-art comprehensive therapies for the diagnosis, treatment and survivorship of cancer patients.

The INTEGRIS Cancer Institute is more than a cancer treatment facility. It's a cancer treatment philosophy, treating the whole person, not just the disease. With six locations statewide, INTEGRIS provides a holistic approach to fighting cancer – guiding patients through their journey medically, as well as walking through it with them personally.

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