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Feature Article 'This Cannot be Happening:' An Albany Family Faces Cancer

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Anne Pettingill of Albany was getting ready for a work-out when her sport bra felt like it was cutting into her. She knew she had a small lump in her breast — one that she and her doctor had agreed to keep watch on during her annual women’s care health check a few months prior.

But this new sensation felt different, painful. It prompted Anne to make another appointment to have it examined, which led to a mammogram and ultrasound.

That’s when everything happened quickly. Immediately after a breast ultrasound, “The radiologist said, ‘This looks like cancer. We’re going to get you in for a biopsy within the hour.’”

At that moment, all that Anne could think was, “I’m 36. This cannot be happening. I have three-and-half year-old son!”

But the self-described “do-er” sprang into action. Over the next six days, she met with medical oncologist, Wei Bai, MD, as well as breast surgeon David Faddis, MD, of the Samaritan Cancer Program.

She received her official diagnosis and treatment plan, starting with genetic testing to determine which chemotherapy drugs and ongoing medications would best shrink her stage III cancer. The tumor was six centimeters in diameter, and it had spread to three nearby lymph nodes.

“I wanted it out and right away,” said Anne. But her specific type of tumor was found to do better when a course of chemotherapy was given first. So began the next year of Anne’s life.

Whether that was the grocery store or enjoying the pumpkin patch with Liam, Anne continued working full time as an executive assistant for a financial advisory practice in Corvallis, only staying home during the nadir — or low point — of her chemotherapy. That’s when the risk of infection is highest.

Otherwise, it was business as usual for Anne through the grueling 18 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a left mastectomy and then 34 rounds of radiation. 

“I walked around bald everywhere,” laughs Anne, who lives with her husband Jamie and son Liam in Albany. Determined to beat the cancer, she focused on finding support to help her get through the many emotions that come with the diagnosis. And she found it through the Samaritan Cancer Resource Center in North Albany, which hosts a Young Adult Cancer Survivors group, or YACS for short.

“Meeting other young adults who were beating this was so empowering and has been such a positive experience all around.” The group is specific to the unique needs of cancer survivors ages 25 to 45, covering topics such as fertility, long-term side effects of treatment, body image and more.

Energetic Liam learned to be careful of his mom’s port — a circular device that is implanted under the skin, connecting to a vein for delivery of chemotherapy and other drugs.

“He’s learned so much compassion and empathy through this,” said Anne. “He’s probably the most educated five-year-old out there when it comes to cancer.” Husband Jamie cut down on his work travel and provided steadfast support through her treatment and in the following many months of reconstructive surgery.

“I am so thankful for my survivorship and for the support I’ve received from this community,” said Anne, who brings her upbeat attitude to everything she does, be it meeting a new friend, sharing a positive word, or making you laugh. Her friends describe her as genuine and magnetic.

Anne is now a mentor for young women going through breast cancer.

“I want to help others through this, whether it’s taking notes at their appointment, visiting them during chemo or just listening. I have an innate need to do something tangible to help others.”

 

Anne was treated through the Samaritan Cancer Program which provides comprehensive cancer care throughout Benton, Lincoln and Linn counties. The Young Adult Cancer Survivors support group meets the second Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m., at Samaritan Cancer Resource Center in North Albany. Call 541-812-5888 for information.