In October 2012, Teresa Dunlap, a vice president and general manager at PRA, discovered a lump in her breast. That discovery led to a breast cancer diagnosis. But Teresa tackled the news with a rock-solid support network, and in March 2013, her doctor declared her cancer-free.
Recently, to mark her five-year anniversary as a survivor, she celebrated with a spectacular trip to Europe with a close friend. Here, she shares a little bit about her journey, the challenges, and her hopes for a cure:
PRA is proud to once again be a corporate sponsor of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. While the race is taking place in North Carolina, we want everyone to feel like they have a stake in this event because what Komen does has an impact around the world. Please visit our PRA Cares Komen fundraising page to support our team!
When were you first diagnosed and what was your reaction?
My initial response was a numbing sadness. I knew it was more than likely a cancerous tumor due to my family history. I wasn’t totally shocked. I am a project manager by training and I went to project management mode. I directed the entire process from beginning to end. I got the schedule of events and ensured all of the procedures occurred within a reasonable timeframe because I didn’t want to be out of work more than six months.
Did you notice anything from a self-exam or was it first picked up by mammogram?
I found the lump. I’d recently done quite a bit of painting and my upper body was sore. I was sitting on the couch massaging my arm and upper chest and found the lump. Sadly, I hadn’t had a mammogram in a few years which is not recommended given my family history.
Is there a history of breast cancer in your family?
Yes, my paternal grandmother and two paternal aunts had breast cancer. One of my aunts died from breast cancer in 2003.
What kind of breast cancer did you have?
I was diagnosed with Triple Negative in October 2012.
What was the hardest part for you going through treatment?
I had eight rounds of dose-dense chemotherapy and five surgeries including bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. During this time my two and a half-year-old son was diagnosed with autism. The hardest part of going through treatment was finding the time and energy to ensure my son had the services, therapy, and support he needed. As a parent, it was difficult to focus on myself when my child’s future was uncertain.
What got you through it?
I had a tremendous support system of caregivers. My husband, family, friends, and co-workers were incredible. People volunteered to clean my house, bring food, bring gift cards, and drive me to appointments. My husband became primary caregiver for my son. My advice to anyone who wants to support a survivor is to take action. Do something. Don’t wait for someone who is going through the most difficult time in their life to tell you what they need.
You recently marked your five-year anniversary of being cancer free. How did you celebrate?
In my opinion, you are survivor from the point of diagnosis. Per my doctor, cancer freedom starts when there is no evidence of disease and for me that was when I finished chemo March 14, 2013. To celebrate five years, I went on a 10-day European vacation with one of my good friends. We went to London, Amsterdam, and Paris. I had a blast and it reminded me how important celebrating milestones are to survivors.
What do you want other women to know about breast cancer? Prevention and early detection?
Early detection is a key factor in a more beneficial outcome. Breast care is very important – self exams and regular mammograms. Women must become familiar with their breast tissue so changes can be easily recognized. Women are caregivers and self-care must become a priority. It is also recommended that women maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, and regulate stress.
What are you most hopeful for when it comes to breast cancer research and the search for a cure?
Cancer will be cured by research. Medicines are improved by research. As a women of color, it is important that minorities participate in clinical trials. As clinical trial professionals, we have to address the misgivings about research and educate the community about the benefits. Cancer treatment is specialized medicine and different ethnic groups may respond differently to therapies. Medical professionals can’t treat those differences without sound clinical trial data.
You are actively involved with the Komen Foundation. Why is this work important to you?
I knew that I wanted to be an advocate for other survivors because breast cancer is a complex and expensive disease that can kill. My goals align with Komen. We both want to find a cure and funding clinical research is paramount. We want to reduce breast cancer deaths. We want to find breakthrough medicines for women living with metastatic cancer. We want to provide financial assistance to women because your socioeconomic status should not limit your access. We want to address the disparities in healthcare for minorities because they are more likely to die from breast cancer than their white counterparts.
How is the annual Komen race meaningful to you? What do you think about when you are out there on the trail?
The race is inspiring because people from different ethnicities, social statuses, and countries come together to celebrate life with the hope of finding a cure. Most people have been affected by cancer in their lifetime and this allows them to honor loved ones and that makes me hopeful that a cure is near. More importantly I am thankful for my life, my husband, family, friends, co-workers, Komen, and volunteers because “it takes a village” to defeat breast cancer.