Overcoming breast cancer: Edinburg mom – now in remission – recalls her ordeal

Dawn Funkhouser, of Edinburg, is a breast cancer survivor. She is celebrating five years of remission this month, which is also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Rich Cooley/Daily

EDINBURG – Dawn Funkhouser had no family history of breast cancer, so she remembers being shocked when she learned she had Stage 3 cancer.

Now in remission, the 47-year-old Edinburg resident said what surprised her most about her experience was her lack of control of how the process would go.

“I want this to be like it really didn’t happen,” she said. “I think the biggest thing I learned was, as much as I wanted to be in control of the process, it was really not in my control at all.”

Funkhouser was 42 years old when she sought medical attention after noticing a lump during a routine self-exam.

She thought she had a cyst and scheduled a mammogram. The radiologist advised her to see her doctor the following day. Her doctor ordered a biopsy, and she was told she had Stage 3 breast cancer.

“I was too shocked to be upset about,” she said. Instead, she thought about treatment options and developed a “plan of action.”

Treatment involved 18 rounds of chemotherapy, six surgeries and 25 rounds of radiation over the course of a year.

Though she worked at Winchester Medical Center, she said she looked at other options before deciding Winchester was her best choice.

“I had fabulous surgeons. The medical oncology team is absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “Sadly, if anyone had to go through this I would definitely recommend that they at least check them out. They are very caring, compassionate and just a good care team.”

One thing that got her through the treatments was family support. Her father went with her to almost all chemotherapy treatments and appointments, and he asked questions throughout the process.

“I think having him throughout the journey was really more useful than the medical piece of it,” she said.

She said knowing there were others out there battling breast cancer also gave her strength.

“I’m not above it,” she said. “No one’s above it. I feel like it was put in my path and I went through it and I since have not looked back, I don’t want to look back, and have stepped on the gas pedal and lived everyday that I can.”

She added, “It was important for me to do it with grace and dignity for my daughters.”

Funkhouser has two daughters, who were 7 and 11 at the time of her diagnosis.

After receiving the news that she had breast cancer, she said, “My first thought was how do I tell them that I have breast cancer?”

In spite of her diagnosis, she said she tried to keep her daughters’ lives normal, even seeing Taylor Swift in concert and making it out to swim meets.

But Funkhouser admitted there were times it was hard to be active in her daughters’ lives.

“I remember being at swim meets but just existing,” she said. “Just trying to survive it. Not really being actively involved and participating.”

She said she was relieved to find out she was negative for the BRCA gene and so she didn’t pass on the gene to her daughters.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website http://tiny.cc/bkdjfy, some women carry genetic markers in their BRCA genes that increase their risks for getting breast, ovarian and other kinds of cancers at an early age. BRCA stands for breast cancer susceptibility gene.

“Normally, they help protect you from getting cancer,” the site states. “But when you have changes or mutations on one or both of your BRCA genes, cells are more likely to divide and change rapidly, which can lead to cancer. Without treatment, women with a BRCA gene mutation are seven times more likely to get breast cancer and 30 times more likely to get ovarian cancer before age 70 than other women.”

Funkhouser is now in remission and will reach her five-year mark this month.

She still takes medication and receives check-ups every six-months.

To those who are dealing with their own breast cancer battles, she advised reaching out to others who are in similar shoes and talking about their experiences.

“When I first was diagnosed, I reached out to a couple people that I (had) known who had kind of blazed the trail and that was really helpful. Even though I didn’t know them very well I felt comfortable to call them and just ask questions,” she said. “It’s good to talk to different people who have been there, even though everybody’s situation is different.”

She said that because of her experiences she is willing to talk with others and help them navigate what they are feeling and experiencing and help understand the overwhelming amount of information they receive as they discover they have breast cancer and get the necessary treatment.

“And although you may want to be very private about it, which I felt like I wanted to for a long time, when you have a support system who has been there it’s helpful,” she said.

She would also advise others to take it easy on themselves.

“Don’t try to push too hard and pack too much in,” she said. “Take the time to let your body recover.”

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com.


October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  One in 8 women in the United States will get breast cancer at some point, according to the National Health Information Center.  Doctors recommend that women ages 40-49 talk with their doctors about when to start and how often to get a mammogram, which is an X-ray used to detect breast cancer. Woman ages 50 to 74 are urged to get a mammogram every two years.