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Federal Way survivor raises breast cancer awareness
Federal Way resident Dee Dirk was a single parent and maintained her full-time job while she went through 36 treatments of radiation therapy in three months. It was tiring, she said, but also taught her gratitude.
Dirk, whose two sisters also battled breast cancer, has been cancer-free for 10 years.
She was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, the early stage of breast cancer, in 2003 at the age of 44. She went through two surgeries and both radiation and chemotherapy.
Dirk has been working with Komen Race for the Cure, a non-profit breast cancer organization, to raise breast cancer awareness and help women who are suffering from the disease.
The Mirror asked her about her battle with breast cancer:
Q: How did the cancer affect you?
Dirk: When you get a diagnosis like that, it’s very overwhelming. There is a lot of uncertainty and you’re not sure what questions to ask. At the time, being a single parent, what would happen to my son if I’m not here? It was frightening.
I trusted my doctor. Having a great team was very helpful, but there was still the unknown. After the treatments, I did not have the same energy level and I kind of got a little more forgetful. When you go through any kind of medical treatment, there has to be some sort of side effects. But for the most part, I feel pretty good.
Q: What are you doing for the Race for the Cure and other breast cancer organizations?
Dirk: In 2003, I put together a team and we did very well in the fundraising walk in Bellevue. I spoke at Race for the Cure’s fundraising breakfast. I went to different walks in different organizations.
I have been in my company now for seven years. Within my office, we have a group of breast cancer survivors, and once a month we get together and have lunch and support each other. I have made myself available to other friends and people who are diagnosed with breast cancer, [to] talk to them and answer questions.
Q: Why is it important to raise breast cancer awareness?
Dirk: Women need to be aware and do their monthly self-examination. Both my sisters found their lumps through their self-examinations. The longer you wait, the more devastating it can be for a person if the cancer spreads.
Q: What is your takeaway from the illness?
Dirk: I like to help other people, but having people help me was hard to accept. I had great support from my family. My dad would come to my chemo treatments, I had great friends who sent me notes, co-workers who came and helped me around my house.
Be willing to let people to do things for you. It doesn’t matter what they do, all of them are very important. I want to say thanks to those who helped me. It wouldn’t have been the same without the help.
Q: Anything you want to say to breast cancer patients?
Dirk: Be kind to yourself, give yourself the time you need. Just remember to take care of yourself and try not to do too much. Human spirit is pretty amazing, you can do things that you thought you couldn’t do. But you can survive those tough times. There’s hope at the end.
Dirk encourages all who are going through a tough time to reach out to family and friends because nobody wants to be alone, she said.
“Just give them a phone call,” she said. “If you feel moved to do something for a person, you don’t always have to ask for permission. Send them a flower, send them a card. Just do that.”
Rebecca Young is a student in the University of Washington News Lab.