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HOMOSASSA - In April of 2012, Citrus County School District transportation assistant Deanne Simmons was anxiously awaiting her mother-daughter annual shopping day when her life was forever changed.
She had noticed a lump on her breast while showering.
“I kept feeling it and wasn’t for sure if I was really feeling something or if I was imagining it,” Simmons said. “Throughout the whole entire day, while shopping, I would keep feeling it while in a dressing room.”
She never spoke a word of the discovery to her husband or daughter.
“I didn’t mention it to her because I didn’t want to ruin our day,” Simmons said. “I just always think ‘Why tell somebody until you know.’ Don’t let people worry.”
She decided to call her doctor at the Citrus County School system’s care facility the following Monday as a “gut instinct and the Holy Spirit told me that I needed to have it looked at to be safe, rather than sorry.”
Simmons had her annual mammogram the previous August, which was normal. Therefore, her doctor decided to order Simmons to have an intensive mammogram and ultrasound.
“I’m a very preventative person,” Simmons said. “I believe you go get your teeth cleaned twice a year and all of those things. When I turned 40 I did what I had to do medically and the same thing when I turned 50.”
On Good Friday, she had her invasive mammogram and ultrasound performed. The pathologist informed her of the nodule on her breast and that a biopsy would be necessary.
With that news, Simmons decided to tell her husband and daughter.
“I honestly didn’t think anything was there as I just had a mammogram done in August,” she said. “I told my husband that I didn’t think it was anything — that it is probably just a fiber cyst. Women get them and they are no big deal.”
On April 25, 2012 — the day before her 52nd birthday — Simmons found out she had breast cancer.
“I was in shock,” she recalled. “She (her doctor) asked where I wanted to go from that point. I wanted to go to Moffitt. I have always felt like if you want a good steak, you go to a steakhouse. If you want good shrimp, you go to a seafood restaurant. If you have cancer, you go to Moffitt. That is what they specialize in.”
Two days later, she took all previous mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsy results with her to her appointment at Moffitt. She was told at that point her cancer was at Stage 3 or possibly Stage 4.
After testing, she was also informed she was a triple negative, meaning she did not test positive with her estrogen, progesterone or HER2. Simmons said that most women with breast cancer test positive in one of the three.
“They had no idea where my breast cancer was coming from,” she said. “So they ordered up more tests. But in the meantime, my cancer had gone from a size two to a size three. They knew that even though I was a triple negative, that my cancer was aggressive. It had gone from two centimeters to three centimeters from the invasive mammogram to that point in less than a month.”
On May 15, Simmons started her first chemotherapy treatment but decided to remain positive on her “marathon.”
“I am a very positive person,” she said. “I always feel like we are all given trials in life. We are always given a hand to be dealt. How are we going to get through this? It’s a test. Do I want to have a testimony or do I want to have testimonies? Do I want to be victorious or do I want to be a victim? I’m in it to win it.”
Simmons underwent eight chemotherapy treatments, surgery and radiation.
“But I knew it was part of the course that I had to travel,” she said. “My doctor told me I had to look at everything like a marathon. Chemo was the first part of the marathon; then surgery is the second part of the marathon, with the radiation being the last part. Don’t look at it as a whole year ahead of your. Look at it as each step.”
She completed her marathon in eight months and had her “lump” and 12 lymph nodes removed in surgery.
“I now say ‘I am 53 and cancer free,’” she said with a big smile on her face.
Deanne is now cancer free; however, she said her body will never be the same again as the radiation and chemotherapy have damaged some of her organs.
“Thought I was doing good. And then in June, the carpet was pulled out from underneath me. I was in hospital with pneumonia, respiratory infection and fluid around my heart, which all resulted from the radiation,” she said.
Despite her trials, Simmons remains a cheerleader for every woman who is experiencing or has experienced breast cancer.
“I feel that preventative care is what everyone should do – male or female,” Simmons said. “In my case, because I had done my preventive care they knew that my cancer was aggressive because of my recent ‘normal’ mammogram. Anyone going through what I have been through – hang in there. You can get through this. It is a battle that you have to fight. Keep looking forward.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Eryn Worthington at 352-563-5660, ext. 1334, or firstname.lastname@example.org.