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Ivory Downs

Aggressive Treatment, Now Cancer Free

Holy Name Cancer Patient stories - Ivory Downs

When Ivory Downs found a lump in her left breast, she had a million thoughts going through her head. She was only 33 years old but breast cancer ran in her family, so she was afraid she had the disease. On the other hand, the doctors she saw told her most likely the lump was benign and not to worry.

Following the physicians' upbeat attitude, she became less anxious and figured it was as they predicted, something inconsequential. But after several mammograms and ultrasounds, then a biopsy, her diagnosis was stage 2 breast cancer.

"After the doctors first said it was probably benign and then I was told I had breast cancer, I was kind of shocked, to be honest," Ivory said. "I immediately went into questioning what we had to do to treat this. What was my next step?"

Ivory had not been diagnosed at Holy Name Medical Center but her gynecologist recommended doctors at Holy Name for her treatment. Though she had several choices on where to go for treatment, she took the advice. A second ultrasound by the breast cancer specialists at Holy Name's Patricia Lynch Cancer Center found an additional spot in Ivory's breast.

Dr. Erika Brinkmann, a breast cancer surgeon, and Dr. Raimonda Goldman, an oncologist, met with Ivory to talk about her treatment plan. Ivory would need 12 cycles of chemotherapy followed by a mastectomy. It was a fast-growing cancer that would require aggressive chemotherapy.

"I'm so happy I chose Holy Name," Ivory said. "The doctors are so genuine and made me feel so comfortable – like we've known each other for ages." Still, Ivory knew she had a fight in front of her, and she had to tell her three children, ages 10 to 17, about her illness.

"I saw a therapist to find the best way to tell them," Ivory said. "The therapist said to be honest with them. I was and they ended up pushing me to be strong. They were great and I knew I had to do everything I could to be here for them."

Dr. Goldman warned Ivory that chemo was going to be aggressive and it would be rough. But at the same time, Ivory found her very comforting.

"Dr. Goldman was wonderful – in ways I can't even explain," Ivory said. "She kept me very informed and always asked me what I needed instead of just telling me what they were going to do. She was right, the chemo was hard, it was horrible at times. The only good thing about it was I lost 35 pounds."

Ivory got through her nearly four months of chemo and then recuperated a bit before surgery. Dr. Brinkmann found that some cancer cells had travelled to Ivory's lymph nodes so she removed them during the mastectomy and reconstruction surgery. The procedure went well and Ivory had no complications during her recovery. She needed radiation but like the chemo, she ploughed through and didn't miss any time from her job as a business office coordinator while receiving treatment.

"I had some dark days but I continued to go to the therapist and that helped tremendously," Ivory said. "There were some days I just wanted to be left alone in my room but talking it out really made a difference. Then when Dr. Brinkmann said I could be considered cancer-free on the day of my surgery, I started feeling better."

Ivory also received some other good news. She underwent genetic testing and learned she didn't have one of the mutated BRCA genes that would have made her more susceptible to breast cancer. This freed her from worrying whether her children had inherited the mutation.

"Thinking about that damaged BRCA gene put fear in my heart and brain," Ivory said. "Once I heard I didn't have it, I felt so much better, not only for my daughter but for my sons also. It was such a relief. And now I'm almost two years out from my treatment and I'm cancer free and feel great, like it's a rebirth."

Learn more about Breast Cancer treatment at Holy Name