Faced with a breast cancer diagnosis, you could cry and get mad. If you’re like Heather Minton of Beavercreek, you do the opposite.
“It’s a lot easier to be happy and know that whatever hurdles come at us, we are going to fight,” said the 43-year-old breast cancer survivor and dental hygienist.
That positive, forward-looking attitude carried Minton and her family — husband Joe, 47, and son Hunter, 5 — through her breast cancer battle, plus a second fight against leukemia for Hunter.
Everything started when Minton’s obstetrician recommended a baseline mammogram. (Her grandmother had a double mastectomy in 1970.)
A day after the test, Minton received a call. Doctors wanted a closer look. A week later, she had an ultrasound. A week after that, doctors biopsied her left breast.
“I found out it was cancer as I was leaving the pediatrician’s office for my son’s 15-month check-up,” Minton said.
It was Sept. 18, 2013. She was 39.
The following Monday, Minton and her husband met Dr. Melissa Roelle, medical director of the High Risk Breast Cancer Center at Miami Valley Hospital South. Dr. Roelle recommended BRCA mutation genetic testing and had them meet with a Premier Health oncology nurse navigator. “They kept pushing tissues toward us, but my husband and I made it funny,” Minton said. “We were not going to cry.”
The genetic test was negative. Minton talked options with Dr. Roelle and Dr. James Sabiers, oncologist at Premier Health.
“The first thing I said was ‘Let’s cut it out,’” Minton said.
She remembers reading about women with cancer in one breast, only to have it reappear in the other breast years later. Minton knew her cancer — Stage 2A, HER2 receptive — was aggressive. She would need chemotherapy and radiation.
“That’s when I decided on a double mastectomy,” Minton said.
Minton’s choice was a brave one, and certainly not easy to make, Dr. Roelle said.
“Without a gene to blame it on, Heather wondered why it happened to her,” said Dr. Roelle. “Heather is a mother first and I know she was extra brave because of what she knew she was fighting for — her life with her husband and her son.”
Dr. Roelle performed the surgery. Six weeks later, Minton began six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by 33 radiation sessions.
Frustration set in when Minton had to delay her final radiation treatment so her red, burned skin could heal. Then the reconstruction method she’d planned fell through. The skin on her chest was too damaged.
Dr. Todd Hicks, a plastic surgeon with Premier Health, suggested the latissimus dorsi flap procedure instead. Minton had surgery in November and completed her HER2 targeted treatments the following month.
Two months later, the Mintons’ world was rocked — again.
Hunter was sick. What the Mintons thought was strep throat turned out to be leukemia. Doctors at Dayton Children’s Hospital diagnosed Hunter on Feb. 28, 2015. He was 3 years old.
Knowing how intense cancer treatments can be gave Minton insight into what her son would endure during his own treatments.
“We had some breakdowns and meltdowns,” Minton said. “We are human. All three of us had our moments where ‘Enough is enough!’”
Minton is an optimistic and determined person, with a positive prognosis, Dr. Roelle said.
“She told me she believes part of the reason she had cancer was to better prepare her to be a mother for her son, who was going to have to go through a cancer journey of his own,” Dr. Roelle said.
Cancer and its aftermath brought the family closer together. Four years after their cancer journey began, the Mintons are regaining some normalcy. Hunter, in his second year of maintenance chemotherapy, started kindergarten this fall. Minton sees her doctor every six months.
“It was rough for us,” Minton said. “My husband, he is my rock. He went through it twice.”
Constant support from doctors, nurses, co-workers, friends, family and others living with cancer got them through, said Minton.
Not to mention that sense of humor.
“I told my husband it wasn’t a competition and that it is not his turn after Hunter.”