Having options helps breast cancer survivor to regain some control

October 23, 2023
portrait of woman sitting on bench
Dana Booker was scared when she first learned she had breast cancer – and Dr. Google didn't help. Now, she's feeling more hopeful. Photos by Clif Rhodes

Dana Booker tries to make the most of her trips to Charleston from Myrtle Beach. She hits up Trader Joe’s, since there isn’t one near her. She and her mom will visit the Charleston City Market or go shopping on King Street.

These aren’t just fun girls’ trips, though. She’s being treated for breast cancer, and she decided that the two-hour trip was worth it to see the providers at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.

“Even though we were going for a really negative reason, we tried to get some fun out of it, whether that was stopping at DSW or having lunch somewhere,” she said.

That positive attitude shone through in all of her appointments, said Melanie Wilson, R.N., a nurse navigator at Hollings for breast cancer patients.

“This was a very complex case. But we do complex things here at Hollings.”

Andrea Abbott, M.D.

Booker said she’s come a long way in her thinking.

“You hear metastatic cancer, and your first reaction is, ‘Am I going to die?’” she said. Dr. Google certainly didn’t help with that perception, but the doctors at Hollings did help her to understand what was happening and what her options were. Her physicians were able to determine that the metastatic disease was confined to her lymph nodes, which meant she would be a candidate for surgery.

“I look back and I think, ‘Wow!’ In the beginning, I was so scared but now I’ve gotten through most of the tough stuff. And I don’t feel as doom and gloom as I did at some of those moments in the very beginning.”

Booker’s beginning was in June 2022, when she got a suspicious finding on a mammogram at her local hospital. Because of other medical issues she was experiencing, though, it wasn’t obviously breast cancer. Her doctor wanted to wait and reassess in six months.

Before that could happen, she landed at MUSC Health in December 2022 with an unrelated emergency.

Part of her does wonder: If the suspicious finding had been biopsied immediately after her mammogram, maybe her cancer might have been caught earlier and her course of treatment might have been different. It’s frustrating to feel that people didn’t listen when she would remind them of the abnormal mammogram. But she tries to not focus on that.

“We can always do all the ‘what ifs,’ right? I could ‘what if’ myself until I’m crazy – but I can’t do that,” she said.

portrait of two women on bench 
Dana Booker with her mom, Dianne Wilder, who was by her side throughout the breast cancer journey.

Unfortunately, not all breast cancer cases are straightforward.

Hollings surgical oncologist Andrea Abbott, M.D., who focuses on breast cancer and melanoma, treated Booker. She said that ending up at MUSC Health is ultimately what enabled Booker to get a diagnosis.

“She had a very complex case with another diagnosis at the same time. We did a lot of co-management with other care teams and pathology and then performed additional imaging to find the breast tumor,” Abbott said.

MUSC Health’s multidisciplinary approach meant that the cancer doctors at Hollings worked with colleagues in divisions across the hospital system to figure out exactly what was happening.

“This was a very complex case,” Abbott said. “But we do complex things here at Hollings.”

Unlike most cases, in Booker’s case, it was the lymph node that first showed up in testing. A biopsy of the lymph node showed cancer, and Abbott told her that cancer in the lymph node could mean breast cancer. A biopsy in her breast confirmed it.

With a diagnosis in hand, things began to move quickly.

“Finding out you have cancer and then finding out the treatment is the scariest part sometimes,” Booker said. But the doctors at Hollings thoroughly explained every step of the process and their reasoning. “One of the days that I went down there, I met with the surgical oncologist, the radiation oncologist, the medical oncologist, all in one office, all at one visit. They're able to give you so much information.”

“And they really gathered, I believe, all the information they needed to make the best treatment plan for me specifically,” she said.

For instance, Booker found that many people in online support groups favored double mastectomies.

“But Dr. Abbott was very, very thorough in explaining my choices and really saying, ‘You have a choice, and either choice is the same outcome, and ultimately it's up to you.’ And so I felt really in charge of what I could do and what was right for me. And that was another thing that I thought was just so very important,” she said.

"Dr. Abbott was very, very thorough in explaining my choices and really saying, ‘You have a choice, and either choice is the same outcome, and ultimately it's up to you.’ And so I felt really in charge of what I could do and what was right for me."

Dana Booker


She decided on a lumpectomy, in addition to chemotherapy and radiation.

But even with chemo, her doctors made sure to work with her – even down to scheduling her treatments so that she could go to an Eric Church concert in June.

“I’m a huge Eric Church fan – he's my favorite artist in the entire world,” she said. Her oncologist, Frank Brescia, M.D., knew that she wanted to be well enough to get to that concert.

“It gave me something to look forward to after finishing chemo, and Dr. Brescia appreciated that. He acknowledged that, and we talked about that,” she said. “When I went back, he asked ‘How was the concert?’ They really take the time to understand what's happening with you personally.”

Booker is winding down her radiation therapy, but she will continue on a hormone therapy for five years to prevent recurrence. She’s looking forward to reconstructive surgery to feel more like herself.

And though the two-hour drive to Charleston was long – though it seemed to get shorter by the end of treatment – she's glad she chose to come to Hollings.

“I didn’t know the first thing about cancer other than I thought I was going to die,” she said. “So to be able to have somebody that is there to answer questions, to get in touch with the doctors, the MyChart as well – I can send a message, and within a couple of hours, I’m hearing from somebody. That’s why I chose to get treatment at Hollings.”

Most importantly, she said, after the shock of the initial diagnosis, she uncovered a wellspring of hope within herself and her community.

“Hope, strength, love and support … I wouldn’t have gotten through this journey without those things.”