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Bosom buddies find support in shared diagnosis

Kaiser nurses advocate importance of early detection
By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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Editors note: This is the final article in a series celebrating breast cancer survivors in the Roseville/Granite area in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Lynn Damiata is used to being in control of any situation. As a registered nurse and house supervisor at the Roseville Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, side stepping disasters and navigating problems are all in a day’s work of managing the hundreds of nurses that walk the Kaiser campus on a daily basis. But sitting in the exam room after a routine mammogram revealed a suspicious mass in her right breast, Damiata had to give up the reins of control. “I scrutinized every move of the physicians and tried to look for clues in their body language,” Damiata said. “Anything I could do to regain some sense of control in the situation, I tried.” A biopsy revealed five suspicious lumps, one of which came back positive for breast cancer. In June 2009, Damiata was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma stage 2. Luckily the cancer had yet to spread to her lymph nodes or the tissue surrounding the mass. “The silver lining, if you can call it that, was that because they caught it so early, the cancer had grown as a whole and didn’t spread to the surrounding tissue,” Damiata said. “Also, I felt fortunate to have the resources at Kaiser available because I knew I was in good hands.” Damiata underwent a lumpectomy with a surgeon who specialized in breast surgery followed by five weeks of intensive radiation. A self-proclaimed “workaholic,” Damiata missed little over a week of work to heal from the surgery before returning for work. Still reeling from the ordeal and her lack of control over the entire situation, Damiata said she submerged herself in becoming a fierce advocate for mammograms and routine exams for women’s health. “Any chance I got I was talking about what I was going through and encouraging the other nurses to get mammograms,” Damiata said. Even en route to surgery to remove the cancerous mass, Damiata was approached by two fellow nurses who had come to wish her luck and wound up getting a lecture on the importance of mammograms. One of the nurses, telemetry department manager and Auburn resident Susan Brenden, took Damiata’s advice to heart, faced her fear and scheduled a mammogram that inevitably told Brenden what she already knew. “I had found a lump about a week earlier but was too scared to go have a mammogram because I think in my gut I knew,” Brenden said. “I just didn’t want to face facts. I was scared of hearing the ‘C’ word.” Brenden was also diagnosed with breast cancer and, just weeks after seeing Damiata in the hallway before surgery, she too underwent a lumpectomy and several weeks of radiation. “We became partners in crime through it all,” Brenden said. “It’s one thing to talk about what you’re going through to friends but to commiserate with someone who’s literally right there with you every step of the way was a great comfort.” The two formed fast friendships with each other and other nurses at Kaiser who had been through the gamut of breast issues from cancer to breast reductions and enhancement surgeries and became known as “Breast Friends.” “We became very close and open with what we were each going through,” Damiata said. “To the point where there were several involved discussions and show-and-tell to compare scars and how we were healing.” Oncology department manager and “Breast Friend” Maria Camacho was inspired by the two women’s strength and activism and took charge in her own department to encourage patients and nurses to be in control of their health. “I got my department to wear mammogram robes to remind women of their importance,” Camacho said. “It was inspiring to see these women going through their daily lives and using a negative experience as a way to inspire other people. They are amazing.” If there’s one thing the ordeal has taught them, Damiata and Brenden agree it’s a reaffirmation that life is short and a reminder to find joy in each new day. Although nothing can compare to what they’ve already been through, they have also both vowed to do one thing in the next year that scares them. Damiata has pledged herself to karaoke. Brenden plans to go skydiving. “That’s the thing about cancer,” Brenden said. “Not that it makes you fearless. It shows you your own strength and part of that strength is being able to find support in others. It was serendipitous for us to hook up.”