Breast Cancer Survivor’s Advice on How to Keep Moving Forward
Donna Roland’s positive nature shines through in every interaction. She is an active church member and steward of her community. Her goal is to encourage other women through sharing stories as well as fashion trends and tips. That’s why she started a business to help women see the beauty, value and strength in themselves when they look in the mirror. “No matter what stage of life we are in, I want to help women feel confident in themselves,” Roland says.
Using her Christian faith as her guide through life, she welcomes each day with a humble and joyous spirit. She held tightly to her positive outlook even after receiving a life-changing diagnosis: breast cancer.
Worrier to Warrior
Roland says that after her breast cancer diagnosis, “I felt at peace and confident that I would be okay, and that God would take care of me. Yes, I’m a worrier, but I chose to be positive from day one of this experience.”
The business owner had created an uplifting, tight-knit community of women. So when she received the difficult diagnosis in December 2020, she shared the news on social media. She says the prayers, cards and texts came pouring in. “I have an amazing support system,” she says. “I have been transparent about sharing the challenges of my past on Facebook and with my community. That’s why I care so much about telling other people they can get through the hard stuff. When I found out I had cancer, it was time to practice what I preached.”
Excellent Care at LeConte
A long-time resident of Sevier County, Roland regularly seeks care at LeConte Medical Center, including the LeConte Comprehensive Breast Center for her annual screenings. After a routine mammogram she was called back for an ultrasound and biopsy. Robert Santee, MD, chief radiologist at LeConte Medical Center, called her within just a few days.
Diagnostic tests revealed two tumors in her left breast that would need to be removed surgically. Dr. Santee reports, “Ms. Roland underwent vacuum-assisted, ultrasound-guided biopsies of these two small lesions with biopsy clips left in the breast. Both cancers were invasive ductal cancers, which is the most common type of breast cancer.”
“I believe God was directing everything from the get-go,” Roland says. “I immediately needed more tests and consultations. It just so happened that all the specialists were in the office and could see me right before the holidays.”
The Tumor Board, a panel of specialists, met to discuss Roland’s case. This group of physicians (radiologists, breast surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation therapists and pathologists) meets weekly to discuss each patient’s case and phase of treatment. Dr. Santee explains, “The Tumor Board allows input from all specialties to see what additional tests are needed and identify the best form of treatment. We consult with the patient afterwards to discuss options. The goal is to design a care plan to best serve each patient and how each specialty will be involved.”
Because she has dense breast tissue and high risk of cancer returning, Roland underwent a bilateral mastectomy, or surgical removal of both breasts, and was prescribed four rounds of chemotherapy. She received a port-a-cath (a small medical appliance implanted under the skin to deliver medication) and chemo over 12 weeks in the spring of 2021. The final stages of her reconstructive surgery were scheduled for June. Her final treatment was in early April, just before her 60th birthday.
Determined to maintain her positive spirit, she did not lose hope. “Attitude really is everything,” Roland says. “You can’t always control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them.” Dr. Santee, who treats thousands of breast patients every year, says, “A positive ‘can-do’ attitude is very important. It helps you power through treatment and helps the immune system, whereas depression suppresses the immune system.”
Get a Mammogram; Know There is Hope
Her message to the community is simple and encouraging: “I want to tell people to get a mammogram. Also, whatever situation you’re in, just know that it’s not hopeless. Whatever you are going through, you can get through it and there is hope to be found.”
She says, “My hope is that God can use me as a vessel to reach other women and be a blessing to them. That is why I wanted to share what I’m going through, to encourage other women to get screened — because it could save their life.” Roland says, “It’s important to keep moving forward. I always say, get up, dress up, and don’t give up.”
Paint the Mountains Pink
Early detection of breast cancer is important because when detected in its earlier stages, breast cancer is very treatable, and treatment is typically shorter and less severe with fewer complications. Thanks to the support of the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation, the mission of Paint the Mountains Pink is to spread the word about the importance of mammography and early detection and help educate our community that mammograms truly save lives.
LeConte Comprehensive Breast Center screens approximately 7,500 patients annually and provides follow-up care as needed. Since 2013, Paint the Mountains Pink has provided screenings for almost 500 women who may not have otherwise had access to preventive care.