Benefit set for woman fighting advanced breast cancer

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By Amanda Hensley


The News-Democrat

Mammograms can save your life.

That’s a belief held by Dawn Austin of Carrollton, who believes women should never miss those regular tests.

Diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma earlier this year, Austin had surgery in April to remove both her breasts. Doctors also removed a lump, about half the size of a lime, caused by the cancer, which starts in the milk ducts.

 Shortly after the surgery, Austin learned the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, liver and bones, putting her at Stage 4, the most advanced stage and the toughest to cure.

Austin is undergoing both radiation and chemotherapy treatments to fight the disease. Recently, she also has had to fight to recover from pneumonia, which put her back in the hospital in July.

She has been struggling to pay her bills as she undergoes treatment. She lost her job at Belterra Casino Resort and Spa near Vevay, Ind., in June, after her 12 weeks of federal Family Medical Leave ended.

Her close friends, Amy Owens and Michelle Donnel, say Austin has two house payments, a car payment for a car that has been repossessed, and day-to-day living expenses. She has had her home phone and cell phones turned off.

To help ease the financial problems, Owens and Donnell are hosting a benefit for Austin from 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday, Sept. 13, at the National Guard Armory on State Hwy. 227.

The event will feature live bands, a disc jockey, and several tournaments, including 3-on-3 basketball, darts and cornhole. For children, there will be an inflatable jungle gym.

A silent auction and raffles will be held for donated items that include tickets to Cincinnati Bengals, Louisville Bats and Cincinnati Reds games; patio furniture; and a gas grill.

Half of the money raised at the event will go to Austin; the rest will be paid out to tournament winners.

Tickets are $15 at the door, $10 in advance.

The diagnosis

Although the cause of breast cancer is unknown, it is commonly thought that women younger than 40 with no family history of breast cancer are at a low risk for the disease.

Those two assumptions lead to the late diagnosis of Austin’s condition. Austin had skipped out on her mammogram last year because she thought she was too young, and didn’t know of anyone in her family who had had the disease.

“If you think something like this can’t happen to you, it can,” she said.

She urges women also to perform the recommended monthly self-exams and always keep mammogram appointments.

Known as “Naynay” to her granddaughter, Skyla, 4, Austin has four daughters: Laura Beth, 22, a Marine; Ashley, 21, who is serving in the Natinal Guard, and was in Iraq when she found out about her mother’s cancer; Montana, 17; and Crystal, 15.

She also is considered a mother figure to her friends and former co-workers at Belterra, Donnell said. “She would say things like, ‘Don’t you do that,’” Donnell said, adding that the group often called Austin “mother.” “She’s a very caring person; she would give you the shirt off her back, and she loves her family and friends.”

Owen, whom Austin once baby-sat for, describes her friend as an “independent, strong-willed woman. ... I could always trust her to be there for me when I needed her.” Owen said.

“She’s tough; she’s a fighter,” Donnell said. “She’s fighting this cancer, and she’s not going to let this pneumonia get her down.”

Anyone interested in donating, but unable to attend the benefit, may donate to an account opened in Austin’s name at First National Bank, 604 Highland Ave., Carrollton, KY 41008.

For more information or to buy advanced tickets to the benefit, call Owen at (502) 525-0212.

Three steps women can take

to enable early cancer detection

The warning signs of breast cancer include:

  • l A mass, lump or thickening, which may feel as small as a pea, in or near the breast or in the underarm that persists through the menstrual cycle;
  • l A change in the size, shape or contour of the breast;
  • l A bloodstained or clear fluid discharge from the nipple;
  • l Redness of the skin on the breast/nipple; or
  • l An area that is distinctly different from any other area on either breast.

These changes may be found when performing breast self-exams. By performing self-exams monthly, a woman can become familiar with the normal monthly changes in her breasts.

Self-exams shoud be performed at the same time each month, three to five days after a woman’s menstrual period ends. Women who have completed menopause also should perform the exam on the same day of each month.

Steps for early detection include regular mammograms: the American Cancer Society recommends a baseline mammogram at age 35 and annual screenings after age 40.

Step two is self-examination monthly after the age of 20.

Step three is to have your breast examined by a healthcare provider at least once every three years after age 20, then annually after age 40.

Clinical breast exams can detect lumps that may not be detected by mammograms.