Through a treacherous journey with breast cancer, Danielle Root finds her roots
October 19, 2016
By Leo Wolfson, sponsored by St. Anthony Summit Medical Center
Danielle Root will never forget Oct. 22, 2015, for the rest of her life.
"I called on my lunch break during parent conferences," said Root slowly, with a noticeable pain in her voice, like recollecting a bad dream. "I told them I wanted to get through parent conferences before I knew, so I called them during my last day of work that week."
During that call to the doctor, the 5th grade schoolteacher from Frisco's worst fears were confirmed — a recent series of tests and biopsy revealed that the bruise on her breast was cancerous.
"I've never broken a bone (or) had surgery before this," explained Root. And at first, she took the news hard. "I did not have a great attitude in the beginning. I (kept thinking), 'why me?' I had no history, I was healthy."
Fortunately, some simple advice from her St. Anthony Summit Medical nurse navigator Noreen Galaba, helped put her on an even keel.
"She said, 'You're going to be OK, it's a process. You know we'll get you through this,'" said Root.
A GUIDE THROUGH CANCER
The current world of medicine can be very daunting, with many different doctors and specialists working with a single patient. Nurse navigators provide an expert guide connecting the medical world and the patient, helping them better understand their process to recovery.
"Getting them information and helping them to know what they can expect down the road for their treatment is huge because it's such an unknown for them and it's a life threatening illness. It's scary, very very scary," said Galaba.
Root tested positive for Her2-positive breast cancer, a less fatal but extremely aggressive form of cancer. It had been discovered through a biopsy program that was just added to the Summit Medical docket in 2015. If not for this addition, Root may have had to travel to Denver for a biopsy — a trip which may not have occurred until it was too late.
"Because of that, she was able to start treatment more quickly," explained Galaba. "Cancer cells divide more quickly than do other cells. So if you can get it treated quickly and expeditiously, you can avoid having those cells attack lymph nodes."
Root started chemotherapy a month after testing positive for breast cancer and did six sessions before having bilateral myomectomy surgery to physically remove the cancer. Chemotherapy isn't typically started until after the surgery, but Root was able to utilize benefits of finding the cancer early.
"When we're able to treat a patient prior to surgery with chemotherapy, there's less invasive surgical intervention and better outcomes ultimately," said Galaba. "The earlier the better and that's why it's so important for women to come in if they feel something and to keep up on their annual screenings."
Summit Medical Center encourages women to get their first mammogram no later than the age of 40, the exact age Root was when she discovered her cancer.
As difficult as the experience may have been for Root, it did show her some beautiful facts — most importantly, how supportive those around her would be when she needed them most. Friends and family drove her daughter to school whenever she didn't have the energy and gave her rides when she had to get to chemotherapy.
"I never took chemo alone," said Root. "Thankfully I had some close friends I could go to (and say), 'I don't feel that strong today,' you know, and just cry it out."
Root lost all her hair because of the chemotherapy but found a silver lining from that too.
"Turns out I have a great noggin underneath," she said, laughing. "I'll probably keep it short for a while; I like it."
NAVIGATING THE AFTERMATH
Root still has a few remaining chemotherapy infusions and possible minor surgeries to go, but is now 100 percent cancer free and holds a much more positive outlook.
"I feel stronger. I feel hopeful and grateful, as opposed to when I started the journey, (when) I felt scared and worried," she said.
"When I first saw her, (there) was a lot of denial," said Galaba, of Root. "Now she wants to share her experience with patients who are just getting diagnosed and help them get through it as well."
Now, Root's journey of emotional healing begins. Getting through the cancer was such a blur that the reality of what she’s been through is just now setting in.
"When you're in the middle of it you just have to get through it," she said. "It has all kind of hit (me) now … (like) 'Oh my gosh, that happened.'"
Those interested in donating to Danielle's recovery can visit gofundme.com/donatefordanielle.