Losing Your Breast Friends
DIANNE GUILLOT DISCUSSES LIFE DURING AND AFTER BREAST CANCER: HOPE, HEALING AND FAITH
article by Barbara Leader | photography by Martin G Meyers
Dianne Guillot, 70, of West Monroe remembers the exact moment when she knew that her life would be changed forever.
She was getting ready for bed on a Thursday night in 1993 when her hand slipped off the waistband of her pajama pants as she pulled them up. The back of her hand brushed the underside of her breast and she felt it – a tiny lump, smaller than a tic tac. She knew what she felt wasn’t normal.
The next day, she went for testing, had a lumpectomy the following week and then learned that the tiny lump, which wasn’t even big enough for doctors to perform all of the usual tests on, was indeed malignant.
“I never said, ‘Why me?” she said. “Instead, I said, ‘Why not me?’ No one else deserves this either.” She relied on her faith, family and friends to help her through her journey to recovery.
“I didn’t have sense enough to be scared,” she said. “I knew it could be treated, so I just gave it over to God. I said, ‘God, this is yours, take it. You know what it is that I’m here to do. If I haven’t done it yet, then leave me here.”
“Those who know me know that when I give something to God, I usually want to help him with it,” she said. “But this I did not. I gave it completely to Him.”
Guillot, who describes the women in her family as “riddled with cancer” always believed in the importance of self-breast exams and regular mammograms. “I have cousins on my mom’s side that it eradicated by the time they were 50 years old,” she said. “I knew not to mess with it. I knew what it did to people. I had a first cousin 10 years older than me that died from breast cancer.”
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Only two months before the night that Guillot discovered her tiny lump, she had been given a clean bill of health following her yearly exam and mammogram.
Surgeons performed a lumpectomy and scheduled Guillot for radiation treatment, but she never got it. Instead, she got a mastectomy.
Guillot reported for her first day of treatment, was marked for the radiation therapy and waited for her procedure to begin.
The treatment was supposed to last only 30 minutes, but Guillot said four hours later she found herself still in the office, and the doctors had not started radiation treatment. In preparing for her radiation, they had discovered more cancer in her breast.
Guillot says the doctor, (who was not her surgeon), told her she shouldn’t have had a lumpectomy initially and he would not perform radiation treatments on her.
“I was furious with my surgeon,” she said. “The one request I had made of him was to consult with (her family physician) Dr. Leary and come up with a treatment plan.” Guillot said the surgeon didn’t consult with the late Dr. Marshall Leary. But after learning there was more cancer, she talked to him and asked him to look at her medical records.
Together, Guillot and Leary decided that she would have the breast removed. “He said, ‘You can look at it today, and it is fine,” she remembers. “‘But you can look at it tomorrow, and it can take legs and travel.”
“He said he couldn’t tell me what to do,” she said. “But when I asked him what he would say if his wife was in the same situation he said, ‘Remove it.”
Guillot said that she believes being honest and open with her family and friends about the diagnosis and treatment made it easier for them to support her. “I was an open book,” she said. “I made them comfortable with it. I could have made their lives miserable, if I had been miserable. But that’s not me. I wanted to protect my family. I let them walk the walk with me and didn’t keep them at arms’ distance. My journey was their journey.”
Guillot’s daughter, Wendi, agrees with her mom’s assessment. “I don’t remember her sulking or being depressed, or any of the emotions that people go through,” Wendi said. “She stayed upbeat. She was always honest with her family, and she didn’t hide anything. Going through it as a family helped.”
Guillot said she missed only two weeks of work and one week as the pianist of Highland Baptist Church during her recovery.
But, 15 years later, a suspicious mammogram indicated a similar condition in her second breast. “They wanted to watch it, but at that point, I went to a surgeon,” she said. “He said you don’t have to wait. It’s your decision.”
“So, I said, well then there’s no decision; take it off,” Guillot recalls.
After her second mastectomy, she says there was a sense of relief, “knowing that that was one something that I wasn’t ever going have to deal with again. I had walked that valley and come back to the mountain top.”
Guillot talked with doctors about reconstructive surgery, but decided against it. “In life, if you lose something that you love, if there’s a loss in your life, you are going to grieve,” she explained. “Here I was, I didn’t have any boobs, and before, I had big boobs, pretty boobs.”
But after listening to how the procedure would be done, Guillot investigated alternatives. “I discovered ‘Just Like You’ and those ladies are fantastic,” she said. “When doctors described the procedure for reconstruction and then said there still would be no nipple I thought, ‘If I can go buy them, it isn’t a concern for my husband and at that point I was up in my 50s and way beyond my bikini years, that’s what I would do. There are people in my life who have no idea’.”
Friends played an important role in her recovery. Wynona Wilson of Calhoun is one of those friends. “I remember spending the night in the hospital with her when she was recuperating,” Wilson said. “She never complained. I just know that if it was me, I just would have been devastated. She took it like the trooper that she is. She’s always positive, never negative.”
Guillot is active with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, enthusiastically and honestly sharing her story of survival with anyone who wants or needs to hear.
A SPECIAL RECOGNITION
Guillot will participate in the 23rd annual Northeast Louisiana Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on September 19 as an honored survivor.
For her service, her amazing attitude and for selflessly sharing her story, Guillot has been named this year’s New Balance Honorary Survivor. She will represent thousands who have won their battle with breast cancer and honor those who have not. “For years she’s been so closely involved with the Race,” Becky Tripp said. “She has been president of the board and chair of our survivor area. She’s been our education chair and an advocate who has travelled to both Baton Rouge and Washington D.C. to bring attention to the need for a cure. On top of that, she’s always been a person that local survivors can depend on for support.”
Guillot will be among the thousands who will participate in this year’s race. Tripp expects between 4,000 and 4,500 people will be a part of the celebration. “Diane is one of those ladies who is warm and welcoming to everyone she meets,” Tripp said. “You know you can depend on her always to be positive. She’s been an inspiration for years.”
Four thousand people participated in last year’s event. Through entry fees and donations the 2014 Race for the Cure raised $190,000.
Seventy-five percent of the net proceeds stay in northeastern Louisiana to fund grants for local non-profits for education, screening and treatment. The remaining 25 percent goes to research.
Guillot says she’s proud to have been a part of the volunteer effort against breast cancer during a time when the fatality rate has decreased dramatically.
According to the Susan G. Komen website, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime.
In 1980, the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer confined to the breast was about 74 percent. Komen statistics have that survival rate today at 98 percent.
Guillot believes early detection was the key in her successful treatments. She advocates for young girls to begin self-breast examinations when they begin menstruation.
Starting early with self breast exams helps women know what is normal in their breasts, so they can detect what is not normal, like Guillot did. “One of the lowest points I’ve had since being diagnosed is seeing the young ones who have waited too late to get treatment,” she said. “Early detection is the key. They think, ‘This can’t happen to me.’”
STILL SASSY AND GOING STRONG
Guillot has no plans of slowing down anytime soon. She’s going to keep talking and keep spreading the word that survival is no longer just possible, it’s probable. “Beating any kind of cancer is 99 percent attitude,” she said. “You can accept it and move on with it or you can fight it. But the outcome is going to be what the outcome is going to be. The idea is to go on with your life.”
“I’ll talk to anyone about it,” she said. “I say, ‘It’s okay to cry, to pitch a fit, but then you put on your big girl drawers and get up and walk the walk.’”
For more information on Susan G. Komen for the Cure, go to www.komennela.org.