Despite experiencing some weird symptoms, Cary Nennig didn’t think there was anything wrong and breast cancer was the furthest thing from her mind.
But after discussing the symptoms with her mother, boyfriend and friends, they all urged her to see a doctor to make sure it was nothing serious.
At the time Nennig was 27 years old and had lived in Waupaca for only three years.
“I called around and found a doctor,” Nennig recalled. “Whoever could see me first was going to be the lucky one.”
Nennig saw a doctor, who, after the appointment, told her he didn’t think there was anything wrong with her. But the doctor also asked Nennig if it would be alright to discuss her symptoms with his colleagues. Nennig said, “Sure, no problem.”
“Two days later I got a voice mail on my phone that said it was more serious than we thought and he needed me to go to the hospital right away and have an exam,” Nennig said.
At the hospital, Nennig said she had an ultrasound done. Everything looked fine on the right side, but once the ultrasound started on the left side, Nennig said she immediately saw white things all over the picture. At this point, the ultrasound technician brought a doctor into the room.
“I knew, working in a doctor’s office myself, I knew that something was wrong,” Nennig remembered.
This led to a mammogram, and the doctor informing Nennig he thought she had breast cancer and she needed to have more tests done.
“I went home to my house and just prayed,” Nennig says. “I pray, but never to that intensity. I got down on my knees by my bed and I just prayed. I don’t remember everything I prayed, but I do remember asking the Lord to take care of me and that when I couldn’t walk, he would carry me. After that, I just felt this calm over me.”
Nennig said one of the first appointments she had was to have a biopsy done, in which three sections would be checked.
“They took the first one and sent it to the lab right away and before they got done with the second one the lab had already called up to the room and said it was cancer,” Nennig said.
On Nov. 12, 2007, Nennig had a left mastectomy. An MRI was then done to see if the cancer had spread anywhere else in her body. The MRI revealed that the cancer was close to her chest wall and it had become invasive. This meant in addition to chemotherapy, she would also have to endure radiation treatment.
Her chemotherapy would include three different types of chemotherapy, all of which Nennig was allergic to. On Nov. 26, 2007, Nennig had the first of 21 bouts of chemotherapy that ended in January 2009.
Radiation treatment started on April 20, 2008. Nennig said the radiation treatment took place Monday through Friday for six weeks, and she handled it much better than the chemotherapy. Through much of the treatment, her mother, Grace, spent a lot of time staying with Nennig.
“It’s hard to get that help,” Nennig says. “Nobody wants to say, ‘Hey, do you want to come over and do my dishes?’ After one of my reconstruction surgeries I got yelled at by my doctor because he said I was doing too much too soon, and that’s why it wasn’t healing and why I was in pain. You have to let people do things for you. And that’s hard because I’m a very independent person.”
Even with the left mastectomy and going through chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Nennig felt her risk of the cancer returning was too high, so she decided to have a right mastectomy.
“With the kind of breast cancer I had I was at an 85 percent chance of recurrence still on that side or the right side,” Nennig said. “By taking the third chemo treatment in addition to my two chemo treatments it reduced my rate by 50 percent. I was still at a 40 – 45 percent chance of recurrence and that was too much for me. By doing a mastectomy on the right side, now my recurrence rate is only 10 percent.”
Nennig then went through several reconstructive surgeries, with the final surgery in April. Her follow-up is to see her doctor every three months.
Nennig isn’t afraid to share her story because she wants to make people aware that breast cancer isn’t a death sentence.
“I think younger people need to be aware, and we need to bring more awareness that it just doesn’t happen when you’re older,” Nennig remarked. “It is linked to other things. I’m at a risk for ovarian and cervical cancer, just like if I would have had those cancers first, I’d be at risk for breast cancer. If what I’m doing can help somebody else through the process then I’m going to do it.”
Nennig admits that she is now more involved in breast cancer awareness functions. In 2011, she will be on the committee for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Waupaca. Also in 2011, Nennig will do something with LeRoy Butler and his breast cancer foundation.
Nennig said her co-workers at Advanced Family Eyecare in Waupaca have also joined her in making people more aware about breast cancer.
“Last December Dr. Everts decided since cancer has touched everyone in our office either personally or someone they know, he wanted to do a yearlong cancer drive,” Nennig said. “So our office has been doing a fundraiser every month.”
To be able to help others even more, Nennig is currently taking classes to become a certified stress and trauma care counselor through Faith Community Church.
“It makes me feel good. It feels like I’m doing the right thing,” Nennig said. “I was diagnosed young and I don’t think that God presents you with anything you can’t handle and he takes ordinary people to do extraordinary things. Breast cancer is something that is unfortunately growing. I’m active. I’m young. I got it so that other people know that breast cancer is not a death sentence. You can get through it.”