October 1, 2013

Survivor stories: Live to tell

Breast cancer survivor raises awareness

By Amie Sites Pharos-Tribune

---- — The color pink means different things to different people. It can be used to represent the arrival of a newborn girl or to describe a certain pop singer. It can also be used to raise awareness of breast cancer.

That’s what pink means to Cindy Bonnell. She wears pink every day in October as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A door leading in to her home and a mailbox in front of her house are also pink.

They are all representations of the breast cancer she has survived.

Bonnell found out she had breast cancer in May 2007. During a mammogram, she was told a spot needed to be evaluated. Feeling uneasy, she went for a second opinion. The spot in question turned out to be nothing, but another spot, originally undetected because of its depth, was found.

Bonnell had a biopsy and was then diagnosed with breast cancer.

“I cried when I found out,” Bonnell said.

After two surgeries, Bonnell had chemotherapy from June until October. She then had radiation until Dec. 31, her grandson’s first birthday.

Since Bonnell learned she had infiltrating ductal carcinoma and that it was triple negative, she has been meeting with an oncologist every three months.

Infiltrating ductal carcinoma begins in the milk duct and invades tissues of the breast and the cancer is triple-negative, meaning breast cancer cells tested negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2, or HER2.

She visits a doctor every six months. But even though she’s in remission, she said it can be scary.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be completely comfortable,” Bonnell said. “You don’t go through a day without thinking about it. Even though you’re in remission, it can come back.”

Her three sons and grandchildren are what helped her get through it. Bonnell said it is hard to explain, but she never is alone because there are so many other women like her.

“I’m sure I looked scared at my first oncology appointment,” Bonnell said. “A lady got out of her chair and came over and said, ‘Honey, it will be OK.’ She sat there and held my hand.”

The people around her have been supportive, Bonnell said. She recalls her youngest son in college waking up early in the morning to talk with her when she went to appointments in Indianapolis.

Bonnell recalls being afraid her grandchildren would be bothered by the loss of her hair.

“They love me even more with my scars,” Bonnell said. “They keep me going. I’m glad my family is so supportive.”

Bonnell’s daughter-in-law, Tammy, watched Bonnell go through treatment. Tammy said Bonnell was strong and didn’t ask for a lot of help. Tammy said it has been inspiring to see all Bonnell overcame.

Be supportive. That’s the best advice Tammy says she can give.

”Just be there for them and support in any way you can because you never know when that can be you,” Tammy said. “If it was you, you would want the same thing. You would want support.”

Coworkers have also been supportive, Bonnell said.

Bonnell, who worked through her entire diagnosis and treatment, said her coworkers have been understanding. She is a program technician at US Consolidated Farm Service Agency. Coworkers would even drive her to the hospital in Logansport if her fluids got low at work.

She continues to be raise awareness of breast cancer. In addition to wearing pink, she is involved with walks and dinner benefits raising support for breast cancer awareness.

“I wouldn’t want anyone to go through what I went through,” Bonnell said. “Get a mammogram. It could save your life. It did mine.”

Additional advice Bonnell has to give others is to keep going.

“Fight for the rest of your life and never give up,” Bonnell said.

Amie Sites is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5117 or Follow her: @PharosAES.