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Cancer victim a survivor not a victim

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

Barry Smith 1/30/04 with breakout on how to contact the Cancer resource center

By Rhonda costa-landers

Appeal Staff Writer

Ann Proffitt found a lump in her breast while performing a self-exam.

She knew something was there. Her doctor and surgeon knew there was something there, but the “something” eluded them in mammograms.

Diagnosed in 1992 with breast cancer, Proffitt had the mindset that people who got cancer died.

“I was scared,” she said. “Five to 6 percent of breast cancers do not show up on a mammogram. That’s why self-exams are so important.”

Three weeks after being diagnosed, she had a mastectomy and reconstructive breast surgery.

Ann has been married 35 years to husband Ron and is a 33-year resident of Minden. They have two children; Dustin, 30, and Darcie, 27, and two granddaughters. Her eyes become misty when she thinks she may never have known her grandchildren.

Come March, Proffitt will be 12 years cancer-free. But she said the first 15 months after her surgery were hard – very hard.

“You think change will never happen,” she said.

Proffitt sold her Douglas County business, Upstage Dance Wear.

“I had to sell. I had to get out and save my life. Then a friend suggested I apply for work at Carson-Tahoe Hospital as a laboratory clerk. After getting to know the doctors and they me, they started asking me to talk with other patients who were about to go through what I had.”

But Proffitt said she was still a mess. Though her family and friends were her best supporters, she needed to talk to cancer survivors.

“I needed to see they were OK. That they were functioning and had a life. I needed survivors.”

Proffitt found a support group and went to a few meetings. The local group was facilitated by the wives of two physicians and co-facilitated by a nurse. Proffitt wanted more.

With the help of the nurse and a pathologist and after several presentations to hospital administrators, they convinced the board of directors at Carson-Tahoe Hospital the community needed a resource center.

“It started as a selfish idea, for me to better understand cancer. I wanted to know why.”

The hospital offered Proffitt a full-time job as program director for the resource center. She accepted it giving up her full-time job in the lab. She received a generous budget from the hospital and a $5,000 donation from physicians for the resource library. The center now accommodates eight support groups.

Proffitt left her lab job in December 1999 and had six weeks to put the center together. The Cancer Resource Center celebrates its four-year anniversary today.

“We now have six volunteers. They are either cancer patients or caregivers.”

Coping Together was the first cancer support group started by Vicki O’Shaughnessy, Pia Parapid and Phyllis Westfall, in memory of Andrea Rose, Dr. Rose’s first wife who died of cancer.

“The center has taken on a life of its own and is well supported by the community,” she said.

Proffitt has been with Advocates for Cancer Care for 12 years and is the current president. She is also on the board of Angel Kiss and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

“All of us are a little surprised at the population who uses our services. We’re a full-blown department now. And I’m not unique to this. I’m not the only person who has survived cancer. I was just in the right place at the right time.

“Cancer is serious. But you treat it and get along with your life. Education is the key to that. There used to be the mentality of if you got cancer, you died. Now it’s treatable – it’s curable.

“The center has its own strength and without me would be fine. I’m not driving it now – I’m just along for the ride. And I love what I do.”

Proffitt looks back on her life and says everything she went through was training her for what she’s doing now.

“I didn’t have to be diagnosed, I was fine without cancer,” she said.

“I couldn’t imagine what my life would be and where the silver lining was. But I like the opportunity I got. I do like what I do and I now have a great staff and volunteers.

“But we need to reeducate people and rebuild the thought about cancer. We have to get people to buy into survivorship. The goal is to take a person from victim to survivor.”

Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at rcosta-landers@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1223.