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Faith, Friends & Family: Interview with Cancer Survivor Deborah

Faith, Friends & Family: Interview with Cancer Survivor Deborah

As part of our mission to inspire positive emotions and soulful living in everyone, Katie Scott Design has created an exclusive line of products to support Susan G. Koman®, an organization that has made significant strides in advancing breast cancer research and women’s health initiatives.

In Katie’s designing a line of spiritual gifts for cancer patients, we met Deborah who so beautifully modeled some of the products that inspire hope and strength in those going through or recovering from treatment.

We sat down with Deborah to get a closer and candid look into her life as a cancer survivor.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am Deborah Whalen, a 52-year old mother of three teenagers and the principal of St. Agnes Academy in Houston Texas. My husband, Mike Crowley, works next door at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory. We have both been educators for over 30 years! We live in a 100-year old house in Montrose, with a cat and a dog and a wonderful community of neighbors.

When and how were you diagnosed with breast cancer?

I am a two-time breast cancer survivor. The first time was in 2010. My cancer was found through a routine mammogram. I went through a lumpectomy, 8 weeks of radiation and 15 months of Herceptin infusions. My doctor discovered a new primary cancer in my other breast this past summer during my annual check-up. Even though all my genetic testing has been negative, we decided to be aggressive
with our approach and I underwent a double mastectomy in August 2017. I am currently on hormone therapy for the next 5 years.

How did you and your family react/deal with the news of your diagnosis?

Everyone was a little freaked out by my diagnosis in 2010. I was only 45-years old, and my older brother had recently died after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. It was a scary time for my family. My children were very young. This more recent episode has been scary as well, but we all were better prepared and knew what to expect.

What has your treatment process been like?

My double mastectomy was intense. It has been nearly 3 months and I am back to my normal routine of running and yoga, but I am still not 100%. Healing takes a long time. I still experience discomfort and swelling from my lumpectomy in 2010! Surgery is only one piece of the process – my treatment has involved many different drugs and lots of side effects. As other cancer patients will tell you, the fatigue
can be overwhelming and the side effects are often worse than the surgery itself.

How did you overcome any obstacles you experienced during treatment?

I educated myself about my treatment. I asked a lot of questions. I brought someone along with me to every appointment so I had another set of ears to hear the same information. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes you make hard decisions about stopping a drug because of severe side effects and it is frightening to think you might be hurting your chances for a full recovery. But treatment is not
supposed to ruin your life. I turned to my husband and close friends to help me with those decisions. I also have an amazing primary care physician. She has been a sounding board and a wealth of information, not to mention supportive and loving. She often helped me prepare questions for my appointments with surgeons and oncologists. I owe her my life – she is the one who found my most recent tumor.

What has your breast cancer journey been like?

Oddly enough, I feel grateful. I am not exactly grateful that I got cancer (twice!), but I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful to our fabulous medical community for the amazing care I received. I am grateful for my family and friends who cared for me (and continue to do so) through some tough times. I thank God every day for my blessings.

Is there any one thing or any one person that has played a pivotal role in helping you through your journey?

See above. I also need to give a shout out to my dog Finn. He spent a lot of time with me during my convalescence. He was always a source of comfort and joy.

Where do you find support or who do you go to when you’re in need of support?

I rely on my faith first and foremost. After that, I turn to my family and close friends. My husband and children have been amazingly supportive throughout my cancer journey. I am quite sure I would still be in bed with the covers over my head had it not been for them.

What words of encouragement do you have for someone dealing with cancer?

You are stronger than you think! I don’t think of myself as a particularly brave person, but cancer makes you dig deep and find resources of strength within that you never knew were there. It can be very empowering. I would also say that it is important to ask for help. I was not very good about asking for help the first time around. People want to help but you need to direct them. Don’t be shy about asking,
and don’t think it is a sign of weakness. You will have your chance to pay it forward in the future. Right now you need your team to help you through!

What are your sources of inspiration, hope, and strength?

I am the principal of an all-girls Catholic high school. There are over 900 girls here who inspire me every single day. I am also inspired by the Houston Dominican Sisters who own and run our school. I have felt the love and the prayers from my community carry me through these difficult times.

Are there any misconceptions about breast cancer that you’d like to clear up?

All cancer is frightening. People die every day from this terrible disease. And yet breast cancer is becoming one of the most treatable types of cancer because of immense funding and research. We need that for ALL kinds of cancer. I trust that the next generation is going to make even greater advances – maybe there is a young woman at St. Agnes right now who will be instrumental in that fight for a cure.

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