BURLEY — Dolores Mabey knew she had cancer immediately when she was called back in for additional testing after a routine mammogram.
“I’d been having routine mammograms since I was 35 years old,” The 56-year-old Burley resident who goes by Sam said. “And I could feel the lump.”
Diagnosed with stage 3B of an aggressive type of breast cancer on her left chest wall in July 2016, if she’d skipped her yearly mammogram, it may have been found too late to save her life.
Now a little more than two years later, she just finished her last reconstructive surgery four weeks ago.
“Just go get those mammograms so they catch it early,” she said. “People know their own bodies. Just listen to them and if things are off, go and get it checked.”
Retaining some normalcy through cancer treatment by working was therapeutic, Mabey said, and she kept a positive attitude with help from her family and a hospital cancer support group.
Cassia Regional Hospital spokeswoman Stephanie Curtis said the support group helps people keep going day after day when they’re dealing with cancer.
“They have something in common with the other members and it helps them deal with a major life event,” Curtis said.
The group’s members may have cancer or be a family member or caregiver of someone dealing with the disease.
“There’s a confidentiality that you get in the group. What is said in the room stays in the room and everyone there has been through the experience of cancer in some form,” Mabey said.
A grim diagnosis
After she received more testing, her gynecologist called her to tell her she had cancer.
“But, I already knew,” she said.
She opted to travel to Utah to the Huntsman Cancer Institute for treatment and her doctors made a plan for her to undergo chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatments.
Chemotherapy was started first and after the second round they told her she would lose her hair, which promptly began coming out in clumps.
Her husband helped her shave her head, and it was winter so she started wearing hats and scarves.
“It wasn’t too bad,” she said.
After the first four rounds of treatment, they set her up for 12 more but she kept working as the administration secretary at Cassia Regional Hospital’s respiratory and sleep department.
“I did really well. I was nauseous at times and got sores on the bottom of my feet,” Mabey said. “I wore a pair of shoes that caused blisters and if you get a blister during chemo, it won’t heal.”
At work she protected her weakened immune system by wearing a mask and keeping the reception window in her office closed.
The cancer was the size of a golf ball and required a mastectomy. She opted to have both breasts removed in February 2017.
Because the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes under her arm, 10 nodes were also removed.
Nothing prepared her for what her body looked like after surgery.
“It looked like they had taken a chainsaw to me,” she said.
The plastic surgeon began the process of reconstruction immediately after the double mastectomy by placing expanders in her chest.
After battling a bacterial infection and having to have one of the expanders removed, she started 35 rounds of radiation.
The treatments meant driving to Twin Falls every day for seven weeks after leaving work.
“It made me so tired and after five weeks I started to get sores,” she said.
In July 2017, she was declared cancer free and after healing from the radiation treatments she continued with the reconstruction, which included taking a flap of tissue and muscle from her back.
Four weeks ago she had her final surgery to take out the tissue expanders and put in breast implants.
“I would do it all over again to save my husband or my kids from having to go through this,” Mabey said.