The history, the diagnosis, the story of survival
Dodson: ‘Don’t give up hope’
One woman’s life changed significantly on a late September day in 2018, as Lori Dodson answered a phone call, and the next thing she knew, she was sitting in the grass in her back yard.
“I was crying,” she said. “I had felt a pain in my left breast and called the doctor. My doctor felt what I had explained and scheduled me for a mammogram, there were obvious points of concern, and I was scheduled for a biopsy. On Sept. 26, 2018, I was diagnosed with HER 2 positive inflammatory invasive breast cancer.”
Dodson lives in Verona and was nominated to be a recipient for the Power of Pink organization in 2018.
“I turned 54 years old on Sept. 28,” she said. “My brother, daughter and grandmother’s birthdays are all in September.”
Lori lost her father on Aug. 30, which was exactly one year from the date she first felt pain and a knot in her left breast.
“I lost my mother the day after my 24th birthday,” she said. “My mom died of cancer. We thought at the time she had bone cancer, but doctors have told me since that it had to of started somewhere else, and it actually could have been breast cancer.”
Dodson said one of the first things that came to mind when she was diagnosed in 2018 was the thought of her mother.
“When mom was diagnosed, she said that her legs were aching,” she said. “She was a P.E. teacher, so she was on her feet a lot. One evening, she was trying to get to the bathroom and was using her vanity to pull herself up because her legs were hurting her so badly. She heard a pop in her shoulder, but she went ahead and went to work that next morning. Finally, during her free period, she went to the doctor and they realized she cracked her collarbone, and then they found the mass behind her collarbone.”
Dodson said the next day her mother was scheduled back for a full body scan and it showed the bones in her leg had been eaten away to a quarter of an inch, so she was immediately bed-ridden.
“Mom was diagnosed in April and died on Sept. 29, the day after my 24th birthday,” she said.
Dodson said she checked herself regularly for lumps and knots, not because she believed she would get cancer because her mom had it, but because that is what women do.
“I first felt the pain and the knot one evening after work,” she said. “I thought, ‘Do I really feel something?’ I felt it every few seconds.”
Lori received her first of six chemotherapy treatments on Oct. 11, 2018.
“It was called the Red Devil,” she said. “I sat there, every three weeks, for eight hours. I lost my fingernails, toenails and my hair, I had rashes and infections.
“I always felt horrible after the treatments. After eight hours of sitting there, I would go home and be stuck on the couch for at least 10 days.”
Dodson said it was strange that she always felt sick, but she could never pinpoint exactly what was making her sick.
“Was my stomach upset? I just felt sick all over,” she said. “Then, as soon as I could start to feel little better, it was time for the next treatment.”
Dodson was treated so aggressively because of her diagnosis of HER 2 positive.
“They said it had started to invade my skin,” she said. “Skin is your largest organ, so they wanted to get ahead of it.”
Dodson said for three years before her diagnosis, she hadn’t been getting regular mammograms because of a job change and implications with insurance.
“I had been getting them regularly before then,” she said. “But, I guess when it was important, I dropped the ball.”
Thinking back on the day she was diagnosed, Dodson said sitting in the grass, crying, she decided then and there to just give it all to God.
“This is my journey, so give me strength to get through it,” she said. “Was I supposed to learn something through this? Show someone something? I guess I have done both.”
Dodson said she has learned how important it is to reach out to people when they are going through something terrible.
“Giving a little bit is better than not giving anything,” she said. “This is God’s plan for me now, this is what I have to go through.”
Dodson said she was told she would loose her hair after the second treatment, but she started losing it about a week after her first session.
“I called my friend who is a hairdresser and I met her at her house,” she said. “Then, we shaved my head. I stopped at my brother’s house on the way there and he walks outside with the clippers and said, ‘Shave mine too.’”
Dodson said she looked at her experience as a journey and stayed positive throughout it.
“I had a double mastectomy and just finished my radiation,” she said. “They think they got it all. I decided not to have reconstructive surgery.”
Dodson said she feels like God has a plan for everyone.
“I believe it in my heart, we each face different challenges and obstacles we can’t run from,” she said. “I got cards from people I didn’t expect to get cards from and that touched me deeply. My friends just poured in, they were so helpful and it was amazing. I want to be that person for someone else.”
One thing that Dodson did after her diagnosis was to remove all the photos from one wall in her living room to make a journey wall.
“I put poster board up covering the wall and I put calendar pages up for a full year,” she said. “I put my doctors’ pictures up there, and I wrote down when and what each doctor’s appointment consisted of. “I had a basket full of stickers, note cards, markers and anyone that came over put something on my wall, also every card or letter I received went on the wall.”
Dodson said she wanted to see her journey, and she lives alone, so even when she was by herself laying on the couch, she could see the wall and how full it was and she was humbled and amazed at how many people took the time to reach out.
“You don’t realize the impact of an unexpected card that says, ‘I’m thinking about you,’ or ‘You got this,’” she said. “It made a difference to me, and when you throw things in a pile or on the counter they get separated or forgotten.
“Put them all together on the wall where you can visually see how much and how many people care.”
Dodson said her mom was always a very positive and strong person.
“She was positive, but she was smart too, she knew she wouldn’t make it through it,” she said. “Even though she was the one who was sick, she supported me a lot.”
Dodson said when she was first diagnosed, her mind kept going to her daughter.
“Did I make her strong enough to get through this without me?’” she said.
At this time, Dodson has still not been released to go back to work, and she spends her days catching up with friends and family, taking care of her home and hunting for rocks.
“I like to find interesting or pretty rocks,” she said. “It is so calming, as well. I go outside and breathe in fresh air and feel the sunshine.
“It’s hard to feel down and out like that.”