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The winner: With true grit, Donna Simpson wins battle against cancer
Tom Simpson took the night off from work so he could go on a date with his wife Donna. They had reason to celebrate.
The Simpsons walked through Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle and ate a nice dinner. Afterward, they strolled the beach at Myrtle Edwards Park.
They came home to let the dogs out, but they didn’t want their date night to end.
They went to a late movie.
“We just wanted to be together,” Donna says.
Donna was up the next morning, working in grandson Kaylen’s class at Midway Elementary School. They were sitting at his desk. And she said.
“What?” 8-year-old Kaylen asked.
“Grandma is cancer-free.”
Kaylen looked at her. “We beat it. We have no more cancer,” she tells him.
The biggest smile came across his face. He jumped up and hugged his grandma.
It was the ending Simpson fought for since the day before Thanksgiving 2012 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
A year ago, Simpson appeared on the cover of the Tukwila Reporter with the headline, “Cancer: Your days are numbered.” Almost 365 days later, on Wednesday, April 30, she got the call from her doctor’s office that there was no sign of cancer in her body. The next night, she and Tom went on their date.
Simpson’s fight against cancer was joined by a strong support system of friends and family, to whom she gives much credit for her victory. And then there’s Jessica Allen, the physician liaison at Rainier Cancer Center in Tukwila where Simpson received her radiation treatments, who became like another daughter to Simpson.
It was Allen who stepped in during initial meetings with the surgeon at Highline Hospital to help Simpson and her family understand exactly what Donna faced in deciding a course of treatment. Allen asked the right questions that Simpson says she was too clueless to ask.
Allen has been at Simpson’s side ever since. “Everyone needs to have a Jessica,” said Simpson, 47, whose life had “just been flipped upside down.”
Simpson decided to have a lumpectomy, a decision that was validated Dr. James Brashears, the Rainier Cancer Center’s radiation oncologist and medical director.
“The reason I like to say that Rainier Cancer Center saved my life is that from Day 1 they were here for me from the minute I got diagnosed,” Simpson said.
The lumpectomy – the day after Christmas 2012 – was followed by the removal of lymph nodes after tests showed the cancer had spread.
In May 2013 Simpson had just finished her chemotherapy. It was followed by regular radiation treatments she finished in early September. Then the clock started ticking on the six months she would have to wait before tests were done to show whether the cancer was gone.
The six months stretched longer because of the complications Simpson faced in her recovery. “If there is a side effect, I will get it,” she says.
Simpson brought plenty of her own grit to the fight, too, a positive attitude bolstered by her support system and the motivation of knowing that her life stretched out before her.
She wants people to know: “You have hope. You can beat this,” she says.
Although Simpson is cancer free, she and her doctors will remain vigilant, with more frequent tests, including mammograms. She found her first lump and she’ll remain diligent in her self-exams.
She’s a strong advocate of mammograms and she’s her own strongest advocate for what’s best for her health – she won’t be pushed into making a quick decision.
“I will be more proactive,” she says, and she’d like to help others do so, too.
Simpson has kept her legions of followers up-to-date with regular “Dear Cancer Letters” on her Facebook page. She wrote her final one – “Dear cancer, Goodbye, I am done with you” – but she decided to wait to post it.
Simpson didn’t want cancer to invade one of her happiest of times, watching as her daughter Noelle married Daniel last Tuesday at Lake Quinault Lodge on the Olympic Peninsula.
Tom walked Noelle down the aisle. With them were their children, daughter Jamie and son Jordan, grandchildren and their family and friends.
Simpson had “a really hard time” finding a dress because “I don’t look like myself.” She lost her hair during chemotherapy and when her hair returned, it was dark and curly, not straight and blond.
“But my big thing is I don’t care what I have to wear to the wedding, I am just happy to be there. I get to be healthy, my kids and grandkids have grandma. I have too much to do to not beat cancer,” she says.
Donna Simpson is one of the many cancer survivors and their supporters who are fighting back. She participates in the Highline Relay for Life. She and the rest of Team Simpson are raising money to enter next year’s Susan G. Komen Puget Sound Race for the Cure. This year’s Race for the Cure is June 1 at the Seattle Center. Information about the race and Susan G. Komen is available online at www.komenpugetsound.org. June 1 is National Cancer Survivors Day; information is available online at www.ncsd.org. Read and share stories of hope online at www.ihadcancer.com/dear-cancer