Dana Stiskin – Breast Cancer Survivor
It was about the worst news a young bride could hear. At 34, Dana Stiskin, an accomplished attorney with a new husband and a promising future, learned she had life-threatening breast cancer.
Fighting back would mean she'd undergo chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction, procedures any woman would dread. But Dana faced a bigger personal fear: The possibility of life without children.
"I didn't really care that my hair was going to fall out," Dana says. "I had wigs, but I never wore them. For me, the thought I wasn't going to be able to have children was the most upsetting."
Then her Mills-Peninsula gynecologist, Lisa Dyer, M.D., shared with Dana and her husband, Howard, some encouraging news about Lupron, a new drug that could preserve Dana's fertility during cancer treatment, including chemotherapy which causes some young women to prematurely enter menopause.
"In the past, women got chemo and hoped for the best," Dr. Dyer says. "Some lost ovarian function permanently and became menopausal and some didn't."
Dana didn't want to take chances. With the assistance of her Mills-Peninsula team of physicians, including Dr. Dyer, surgeon Andrea Metkus, M.D., and oncologist Kent Adler, M.D., she received monthly Lupron injections while she underwent chemotherapy. On her doctors' advice, the couple also froze several embryos before Dana received cancer treatment.
"I was very scared, and my husband was very upset," recalls Dana, now 37. "The only thing you can do is move forward, and all the doctors were very supportive."
Dana first discovered a lump in her breast in late 2002, while the couple was vacationing in Mexico. When she returned to her San Jose home, her mother urged her to schedule an appointment with Dr. Metkus, a highly regarded surgeon.
Dr. Metkus performed a biopsy. Dana expected the lump to be benign. "I didn’t think anything of it," Dana says. "Everyone said, 'You’re young. It’s probably nothing.'"
Four days later, she got the call telling her the tumor was cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, according to the American Cancer Society. In 2005, an estimated 40,400 women were expected to die from the disease.
"Breast cancer occurs most often in post-menopausal women," Dr. Dyer says.
She had cared for Dana for many years and knew how important it was to her to have a baby.
"When she got the diagnosis, I called her and said, 'Dana, make sure they give you Lupron,'" Dr. Dyer says. "It was not standard therapy then."
About 1 1/2 years after she finished cancer treatment, Dana became pregnant.
"I was able to get pregnant very easily, and I had an easy pregnancy," she says. "It was fantastic, and Dr. Dyer was there when he was born."
On Oct. 23, 2005, the Stiskins celebrated the arrival of Ryan Andrew Stiskin.
Dana says she hopes her experience will set an example for other young women.
"Just because you have breast cancer, doesn’t mean you can’t have a child," Dr. Dyer says.
With informed care and a little luck, Dana’s dream came true. Today, as Ryan’s first birthday draws near, Dana says her little miracle keeps her smiling.
"It was magical," Dr. Dyer says. "It’s the little miracles of life that keep you going."
This story was first published in Healthpoint in 2006.