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Conyers woman recovers from breast cancer with help from family, friends

Members of the Crossroads United Methodist Church threw a pink party for Diane Reagan when they learned she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Members of the Crossroads United Methodist Church threw a pink party for Diane Reagan when they learned she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

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Breast cancer survivor Diane Reagan is shown in the conference room at THP Printing, next to a trophy depicting a woman in a martial arts kick with the words "Kicking Cancer's Butt" below it, presented to her by THP where she works as vice president.

CONYERS -- Diane Reagan, senior vice president of THP printing in Conyers, said she approached her breast cancer treatments as if tackling a project at work.

"My whole mantra is 'I just don't have time to be sick,'" said Reagan, mother of two children, former president and vice-president of Salem High School Booster Club and treasurer for Theater Salem.

"I have managed my cancer just like a print project -- let's put a plan together and get it done. I didn't want it to consume my life. I wasn't going to let it get to me. I had cancer; it didn't have me."

Less than a year after learning she had breast cancer, Reagan has completed her treatments and is in recovery. She wants other women to know that should they develop the disease, there is hope that they will get through it.

"I want to share my story with other people because it makes it less scary, being positive about your outcome and not letting it get you down," she said.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and health professionals urge women over 40 to get their annual mammogram. The two biggest risk factors for breast cancer, according to www.breastcancer.org, are being a woman and getting older.

Though the death rates for breast cancer have been decreasing since 1990, the number of women diagnosed with the disease remains significant -- just under 12 percent of all women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetimes, according to breastcancer.org.

Early detection through regular mammograms is the key to surviving breast cancer, say health experts.

"Mammography as it is practiced today is the most well-established technique for detecting early breast cancer and there are scientific studies that show that using screening mammography for more women decreases the mortality rate for breast cancer," said Dr. Richard Stiles, a radiologist and director for the Rockdale Medical Center Breast Imaging Center.

Stiles said that detection of early breast cancer combined with treatments including surgery, radiation and chemotherapy greatly improves survival rates.

"I always tell women that these days you have every reason to be optimistic. Finding out you have breast cancer is not the death sentence it used to be," said Stiles.

The three most important steps women can take to decrease their risk of dying from breast cancer include undergoing an annual mammogram, annual physical exam which includes a breast exam, and a monthly self-exam.

"If they're doing that, they are doing all they can do," Stiles said.

Reagan's annual mammogram proved essential in spotting the disease while it was still treatable. Since turning 40, Reagan diligently underwent annual mammograms. Last year, she fell slightly behind in her annual August exam and didn't get the mammogram until December. A lump she had felt in a self-exam particularly concerned her.

The results of the mammogram yielded a mass in one of her breasts, and the radiologist didn't mince words.

"He said, 'It looks like breast cancer. You need to see a surgeon,'" she said. "I was preparing myself that's what it was, but to hear the doctor actually say those words was a little scary."

She got the results of a biopsy in early January and learned she had cancer in one breast and atypical cells, which could have developed into cancer, in the other breast.

Reagan opted for a double mastectomy and had surgery on Feb. 1.

She took two weeks off from her job after the operation and then eased back into her position managing sales accounts for THP, a graphic design company where she's been employed for 29 years.

"I worked throughout this whole ordeal," Reagan said, who had six chemotherapy treatments after the surgery. "I never got sick, just tired. I just pushed through it."

Reagan said she relied on her family -- her husband of 28 years, Chuck Reagan; her daughter Avery, a senior at Salem High School; and son Britt, 24, a Salem High School graduate who lives in New York City -- to cope with the disease.

"My husband was extremely supportive of me. This was something that affected our entire family and we went through this together," she said. "(Chuck) was an integral part of the decision making."

Members of her church, Crossroads United Methodist Church, gave Reagan and another fellow parishioner, also diagnosed with breast cancer, a pink party, and Reagan talked to several women who had survived the disease.

Reagan said that because of the advances in reconstructive surgery, the mastectomy didn't prove to be as bad as she thought.

The most emotionally difficult part of dealing with the cancer came during her chemotherapy treatment. She had prepared for her hair to fall out and had purchased wigs and scarves. Fifteen days after the first treatment, her hair came out in clumps.

"The hardest thing was the day I had to shave my head," Reagan said.

Reagan said now that she is a survivor, she has advised and supported other women facing the disease. She is also planning to volunteer for the Kim Atkins Foundation, a local nonprofit that offers vouchers to uninsured or underinsured women so that they can get free mammograms.

"I hope to help with the Kimberly Atkins Foundation in promoting mammograms. It's a very worthy cause," Reagan said. "You need to get your check up once a year and perform your monthly self-checks. It's so important."