OTTUMWA — Donna Black didn't panic when the doctor told her she had cancer.
"He apologized for calling me at work, but I told him it was OK, I wanted to know," said Donna from her home in Ottumwa.
She was concerned, but overall, optimistic. In a letter she wrote about the experience, she said she was "not necessarily devastated" by the news.
"I never [worried] there would be a bad outcome, never really [worried about] death," she said.
Or maybe, she says these days, she just didn't have time to worry. She and her family took action immediately.
"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 1996. A small mass was found during a routine mammogram. A biopsy, which proved to be malignant, was taken from my right breast."
She met in town with a cancer specialist, which quickly resulted in a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. She met with a surgeon and was surprised to find out he could operate the next day.
"I underwent surgery for a lumpectomy with numerous lymph nodes removed," Donna wrote in a description of that time.
That was followed by four weeks of radiation treatment, which she had in Ottumwa.
"I was fortunate not to need chemotherapy treatments," she said. "The years since have seen no re-occurrence of any cancer. I was 63 at the time of the diagnosis."
That was 17 years ago, the 80-year-old said, adding that she still works at the office of her son's business, is socially active "and consider myself fortunate for the good health that is mine."
She was fortunate, she said, because her family was right by her side, from learning of the malignancy to visits with specialists; when she needed to go up to Mayo, they'd take her — and stay with her. And yes, she believes, that makes a difference in recovery.
"Were it not for the love and support of my family, my outcome could have been different," she said.
When asked for advice she might give other patients, she said, they need to stay focused on what they have to live for and to keep as positive an attitude as possible.
She returns to Mayo Clinic this month — with the help of her children — as she has for an annual checkup 17 years straight. She's not worried. But she says her case is nothing special, and Donna was surprised and hesitant when her children nominated her to share her story.
"I feel I am but one woman, of many, who has earned her pink ribbon," she said.
— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark