Breast Cancer Survivor
- Diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2008
- Treated with lumpectomy surgery and breast brachytherapy
- Volunteers and gives back to fellow cancer patients at SCCA
Camille Mills had a feeling her diagnosis would be cancer. “I had two biopsies and had been told that I probably would not hear until the following Monday from the doctor,” she says. So she went to work and later that day got a call from her doctor who asked her to bring her husband to his office on their way home from work.
On November 20, 2008, Camille was diagnosed with stage I non-aggressive ductal non-invasive carcinoma. The tumor was very small; less than one centimeter. And, it was caught very early, thanks to her annual mammogram.
“The first thing I asked my doctor was, ‘Am I going to die?’” Camille says. “And he said, ‘no.’ Once I knew I was not going to die, I accepted it. I didn’t get angry. I didn’t say 'why me?' All I wanted to know was now what do we do to make it better. And since I knew that it was small and I was not going to die, nothing else mattered.”
Camille immediately began reading up on breast cancer, on stages of breast cancer, and what it meant, as well as what tests and treatments she would likely receive; anything to give her an overview of what she was going to face.
“Seattle Cancer Care Alliance sets you up with a team of doctors,” Camille says. “You get a radiation oncologist, a medical oncologist, and a surgeon. And I thought about which doctors would make me most comfortable, and I decided I wanted all women. And one of the ones they ’d given me was a man and normally, I don’t have a problem with that, but with breast cancer it was really important for me to have women as my doctors, so I asked for a switch. And I think that between the knowledge I was learning and my taking control of the doctors I was going to have, it made me feel in control of the situation so that I wasn’t feeling frightened, I was just ready to continue on with the next step.”
Surgery was simple because of the small tumor size. Camille had a lumpectomy followed by radiation.
“I had three options (for radiation therapy). I had the option of a six-week external beam radiation, which is a normal radiation treatment. Or, I could have the same treatment on a three-week course, which is, you just receive more radiation. The one I ultimately chose was called interstitial breast brachytherapy. Its’ more invasive to your body, it takes less time, but the main reason I chose it was because my heart and lungs would not be exposed to radiation.”
Camille researched brachytherapy. “It was a little more terrifying because they surgically implant catheters into your breasts, and then the radiation source puts the radiation through the catheters. So it’s very localized radiation. But you can’t imagine that when they put these catheters, I had 29 of them, which is more than usual, in your breast and they’re sticking out. But it doesn’t hurt! And that’s one reason why I would really like women to know that if they have that option, it’s not terrifying at all. It’s not painful. I would absolutely do nothing differently.”
Advice to others
Camille suggests that other women with cancer, or any disease, should look within themselves to determine what would make them most powerful. “For me, it was knowledge. I continued on researching as I progressed from the surgery to the radiation, to post treatment,” she says.
“Determine what’s going to make you feel most in control and most powerful and then that’s what you do. And never be embarrassed and never be ashamed. I told everybody I had breast cancer because that’s who I was, I was Camille with breast cancer.”
Today, she says, “I’m Camille who no longer has breast cancer, but now perhaps a passion for helping other women who do have breast cancer. It doesn’t have to define the rest of your life.”
Life as a caregiver
In 2010, Camille’s husband John was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. He received treatment at SCCA as well, enrolling in a six-month clinical trial followed by surgery.
“His treatment options were not so clear cut, so there was more research involved, more discussion, more uncertainty,” Camille says. “As John did during my cancer journey, I attended every appointment with him, took notes, and asked questions. Again, we empowered ourselves. And being a caregiver had its own set of challenges: staying strong, loving, patient, and kind despite my own anxiety; feeling helpless watching John suffer; physically assisting in his care; and once again, living with the chaotic new normal of 'cancer' that became our everyday lives."
Giving back after cancer
By 2011, Camille and John had been fighting cancer in one form or another for three years and decided it was time to give back. They chose SCCA and met with staff from SCCA and the SCCA House to see how they could help.
“We toured the SCCA House and the pantry and visited about the needs of the residents,” Camille says. “We learned that so many residents spend months at the SCCA House waiting for or undergoing treatment. We were so fortunate to live five miles away!”
Camille and John began donating a carload of food to the pantry every month. “It is rewarding to contribute to the pantry and help feed families who are fighting the illness journey and have so much more to worry about than how they are going to buy their groceries,” she says. “It is our way to show our admiration and support for people in the midst of a health crisis.”
Camille and John also donate two “love totes” a month to SCCA House filled with simple items like toothpaste, snacks, and detergent, to other items like puzzles, books, lotion, and gift cards. They have hosted dessert and movie night at SCCA House as well. “Our friends helped and provided a chocolate fountain that was an extremely big hit,” she says. They have also become patient advisors with SCCA’s Patient and Family Advisor Council to be able to actively give back to SCCA care on another level.
“I know I can’t change the world,” Camille says, “but I can change the lives of individuals and families, and that’s a precious gift to be able to do so.”