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Survivor shares hope, humor

Health: Dawn Galbreath, of Saugus, now helps others as a spokeswoman for breast cancer in the Santa

Posted: September 30, 2010 7:27 p.m.
Updated: October 1, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Galbreath looks over her breast cancer scrapbook, which includes photos of friends and family wearing her blonde wig.

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It was 2007 and at age 40, Dawn Galbreath, of Saugus, had it all: happy marriage, healthy children, a successful career. She also had a lump in her breast.

Though her primary care physician had assured Galbreath it was just normal aging breast tissue, she couldn’t let it go. Her mother-in-law had been diagnosed with breast cancer two years earlier, and Galbreath didn’t want to take any chances. “I just knew it didn’t feel right,” she said.

It was a fortuitous decision. After Galbreath sought a mammogram at the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center at Valencia’s Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, results showed an abnormality.

A biopsy and second mammogram were scheduled. Ultimately, Galbreath’s cancer was diagnosed as Stage III, which required extensive surgeries and treatment. “I had to get used to having cancer in the beginning, but now it’s just part of who I am. I’ve earned all these scars,” Galbreath said proudly.

Raising awareness
Galbreath, now a two-year survivor, is sharing her journey with women across the Santa Clarita Valley throughout October (see sidebar below) as the 2010 breast cancer awareness spokeswoman for Newhall Memorial’s Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps to raise funds for the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center.

The foundation’s 2010 breast cancer-awareness benefit project is a $100,000 digital specimen radiography system, which would allow surgeons to place a biopsy on the imager and digitally submit to a radiologist for immediate analysis, reducing the time a patient is kept under anesthesia.

A fear of public speaking made Galbreath initially reluctant to accept the spokeswoman position, but she soon relented. “I thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t speak in public; it’s not my forte, but I knew I wanted to help, to give back,” she said.

In addition to raising funds, Galbreath is hoping to raise awareness in the community of the first-rate cancer facilities available at Newhall Memorial.

“I can’t imagine having to travel for treatment. It was priceless to have medical services so close to home. Most of my surgeries and all of my chemotherapy and radiation treatments were done on the hospital campus,” she said.

With a few September appearances already under her belt, Galbreath is much more comfortable with her role.

“It was easier than I thought. My heart still pounds out of my chest at first, but I mostly wing it,” she said with a smile. “My first message is to do self-exams and to listen to yourself. I try not to think what would have happened had I just went home and forgot about my lump.”

The long road
Galbreath initially underwent a lumpectomy, when it was believed the cancer had only spread to one lymph node. When it was found in five lymph nodes, a mastectomy was ordered 20 days later. Simultaneous reconstructive surgery was performed by Dr. Gregory Senofsky of the Breast Center of Valencia and a staff surgeon at Newhall Memorial.

The surgery took place on her 20th wedding anniversary. She and her husband Ron, a computer aided design artist, spent the evening together in intensive care. “Not quite the romantic evening we had envisioned, but we were together,” Galbreath said.

Since narcotics tend to make Galbreath feel ill, she recovered from her surgeries largely without the relief of pain medications. “It was kind of hard. I took aspirin-based medications, but only for a few days. The doctors were good about finding the best solutions for me,” she said.

To fully attack the cancer, chemotherapy and radiation were added to Galbreath’s regimen. A port was placed in her chest for the six rounds of chemotherapy she was scheduled to undergo.

Galbreath never threw up during chemotherapy thanks to anti-nausea medication, but she experienced other side effects.

“It was just exhausting,” she said.

Help and humor
Bolstered by family and friend’s support, Galbreath didn’t cry when she started to lose her hair. Instead, she shaved it into a Mohawk and dyed it purple, then found a striking blonde wig to temporarily replace her own lustrous locks. Sometimes, she just ditched the wig altogether.

“I would drive my daughter Holly to high school bald. She wouldn’t care,” Galbreath said.

As she recovered, Galbreath returned to a hobby she enjoyed; her pink cancer scrapbook  features photos of friends and family, including her dogs Tiffany and Pixie sporting the blonde wig.

“Faith, hope, a healthy sense of humor and my wonderful support team got me through the toughest moments,” she said. “Ron was the best nurse ever, and between my family and his family, I ate very well.”

Tiffany, Pixie and a new four-legged addition to the Galbreath clan, Einstein, were of special comfort. “I called them my chemo buddies. They took naps with me all day long. They never jumped on me. It was like they knew,” Galbreath said.

Surviving and thriving
In addition to speaking, Galbreath is involved with Circle of Hope, a Newhall-based charity that helps uninsured and underinsured breast cancer patients, which she supported before her diagnosis.

This April, Galbreath walked with 40 teammates to support Relay for Life, which funds cancer research.
Cancer has been a life-changing experience in many ways for Galbreath, an operations manager for an administrative office, giving her strength to deal with every day challenges and the ability to step out of her comfort zone.

“I’m a lot calmer now. The way I see it, if I have something bad happens during the day, I ask myself, ‘Is this the worst thing?’ If I have a flat tire, I don’t care,” she said. “If I can help one person through my experience, then it’s all been worth it.”

For more information on the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, visit www.henrymayo.com.

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