University Park Woman Winning the Battle Against Breast Cancer

Facing the removal of one breast from cancer is difficult enough.

Making the decision to have the other breast removed so the cancer doesn't spread is almost unthinkable.

Yet that's precisely the choice 42-yearold Sheila Harris of University Park faced last November.

Sheila's story begins when she detected a lump in her left breast last fall. "I also had pains in my left breast," she explains. "I was scared. I didn't want to face it at that point."

But with a strong family history of cancer, Sheila knew the odds were stacked against her. She eventually scheduled an appointment with her doctor who recommended a mammogram. "The mammogram showed a tumor the size of a quarter," she said.

Immediately, she was referred to board certified hematologist/oncologist Alexander Starr, M.D., who recommended chemotherapy before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor. "We were able to substantially shrink the tumor before Mrs. Harris underwent a mastectomy in February," Dr. Starr said.

Before surgery, Sheila made the difficult decision to have both breasts removed. "I didn't want to take the chance of having it spread to the other one," she explained. "I just didn't want to have to go through it all again."

So on Valentine's Day of this year, Sheila underwent both a double mastectomy and total breast reconstruction in one single surgical procedure. "I consider it my Valentine's gift," she said. "Everything came out beautifully." Following a one-day stay at Ingalls, Sheila was discharged to continue her recovery at home.

Though she suffered some post-surgical swelling of the nearby lymph nodes (commonly known as lymphedema), Sheila has had a successful recovery. "I feel really good, and I like the way I look," she added. "I'm so thankful to my doctors. They are my angels."

Now that she's cancer-free, the energetic mother and grandmother plans to take up banjo playing.

"My dad was a musician and he played the banjo when I was a little girl," she adds with a smile. "I plan to learn how to play it. That and staying healthy are my biggest goals right now, and so far, I'm achieving them."

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