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Sharing the path to recovery

Two Laguna women with breast cancer become each other's support group as they go through treatment and remind friends to get their mammograms.

October 31, 2013|By Beau Nicolette
  • Laguna Beach residents Tracy Dean, left, and Lisa Early met for tea Wednesday. The pair were diagnosed with breast cancer in July and are undergoing similar treatments.
Laguna Beach residents Tracy Dean, left, and Lisa Early… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

For Lisa Early, getting a mammogram at age 40 was just a casual thought, and she didn't follow through.

Years passed, and the thought became a whisper. Eventually it turned into a throbbing yell when she started seeing less than subtle signs from the universe. She set the appointment after driving by a billboard with bold letters that simply read "Get a mammogram."

Tracy Dean also scheduled a mammogram. She had been doing the exam yearly and this year's was just another appointment, a routine checkup.

Neither of the Laguna Beach residents thought the test would yield meaningful results.

But Early, who is dating the Coastline Pilot's photo editor, received the news by phone while at lunch with friends. Dean went to a follow-up appointment with little preparation for the news she would hear.

Shell-shock, confusion, dismay — all are weak words that fall far short of describing the moment they were told, "You have breast cancer."

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"The wind was knocked out of me, my feet came out from underneath me," Dean said, "I instantly got tears in my eyes and the first words out of my mouth were, 'Am I going to die?'"

With National Breast Cancer Awareness Month coming to an end this week, pink ribbons will slowly disappear, the NFL will strip its ranks of pink socks and shoes and the Oregon Ducks will retire their pink helmets.

But the battle against breast cancer will carry far beyond October for Early, Dean and many other Orange County patients.

Dean and Early, both 43, were strangers when their diseases were diagnosed just a month apart over the summer. Both have similar and aggressive forms of the disease and now, after being connected through mutual friends, rely on each other for support through treatment.

With calls and messages, they help each other through emotionally draining chemotherapy sessions and share an understanding of the "hung over, food poisoning and jet lag all at the same time" feeling and something they both call "chemo brain."

"I realized about the second chemo why they are called survivors," Dean said. "It's like you go to hell and then you crawl out of hell and say, 'OK, bring me back.'"

Both had their fifth of six chemotherapy treatments this week with a hardened resolve that they have worked to cultivate over the past few months.

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