The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Breast Cancer

October 11, 2013

Woman leans on friends, family

DAVIDSVILLE — The time Danielle Mishler spent with her girlfriends – filling shopping bags, thrilling over the Penguins season or grabbing dinner before a movie – helped blow off steam between a busy, two-job work schedule.

They’ve been phoning more frequently, however, after Mishler was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer in July. She said her support group never fails to pick her up – either through empathetic words or by just listening.

The 46-year-old Davidsville native, who works in the CPG vascular surgery department at Memorial Medical Center and moonlights at It’s Tantalizing tanning salon in Richland, was scheduled for a yearly mammogram in December. At the time, she’d planned to blow it off, but something compelled her to go anyway.

It was her first abnormal screening. She got the biopsy results while she was at work.

“I instantly walked out of my office and was hysterical in the hallway,” she said.

“I think I was just totally shocked, because there was no family history – nothing that would have ever led me to think that’s what it was,” she said.

So Mishler underwent a lumpectomy with Dr. Gerald Garguilo in August. Doctors found her lymph nodes were benign – a relief that comes with early detection.

Oncotype testing – which screens genetic markers to determine recurrence rates and suggest treatment options – led doctors to recommend monthly chemotherapy treatments, followed by an almost two-month-long regimen of daily radiation treatments. They told her it could add 30 to 40 years to her lifespan.

Mishler said the terminology itself sounds scary. Undergoing treatment for the first time can be emotionally overwhelming, but she had someone to look up to: her mother, Ruth, a 10-year lung cancer survivor.

“She’s been my role model,” Danielle said.

Ruth, who came out the other end of 17 chemo and 30 radiation sessions, coached her daughter on what to expect from the debilitating treatment methods.

“I want to be supportive of her, because I went through the chemo and it’s not an easy thing to go through,” Ruth said. “I’ve always said, ‘OK, I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me.’ So, you have to be a strong person, which my daughter is.”

So far, Danielle said the treatments haven’t gotten the better of her. She hasn’t missed a day of work. But soon, she knows she will be missing her hair – a thick, curly, dirty-blonde mane for which she’s notorious. She’s already cut it from past her shoulders to her chin in preparation.

Danielle said her older brother, Doug, will be shaving his head in solidarity. And her boyfriend, Randy Custer – who’s been, in her words, “amazing” through the ordeal – has tried to lighten her attitude toward it.

“He’s already told me that when I lose my hair, I’m going to save time in the morning, (money) on hair products – he’s looking at the fun stuff,” she laughed.

“It is what it is,” she said. It’s sort of her catch phrase. “I can’t change it, I just have to deal with it.

“It’s going to change who I am,” she said. “But this is part of that journey too.”

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/JustinDennis.

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