Lynn Wyatt, Atlanta native and vivacious mother of two, was first diagnosed with breast cancer just after her 40th birthday.
Lynn felt empowered when she scheduled her first mammogram and even considered it a rite of passage. Without having a family history of cancer, Lynn wasn’t worried when the phone call came a few days later asking her to come back for a follow up. She didn’t even tell her husband about the appointment and recalls putting on her Frye boots and grabbing a pink scarf, thinking “I got this.”
Lynn and her children, June 2013
In a darkened hospital room, Lynn saw the image of a pebble-sized tumor in her breast and then she began to worry. It became more distressing when a radiologist said, “I don’t like what I see here.”
A short while later, Lynn sat in her car in the hospital parking garage and realized that her whole world had changed in a matter of two hours. But it would be more than five days before the diagnosis of breast cancer was confirmed.
“I would never tolerate that kind of treatment today but back then I was a novice patient and when you start you don’t know that you have to push back to get what you need,” Lynn explains.
Lynn’s breast cancer diagnosis and treatment were fairly standard. After an MRI scan revealed numerous precancerous cells, Lynn underwent a double mastectomy followed by immediate reconstruction and a chemotherapy regimen.
After a few months, Lynn’s life was back to normal. She was back in action on the tennis court and back to taking action in her community where she sits on numerous boards at her children’s schools.
And she began to count the anniversaries. One year cancer free. Two years cancer free. Three years cancer free. Though not a religious person, Lynn felt blessed to be alive to see her son graduate from elementary school. To be able to bring her daughter to her first day of second grade. To take trips with her girlfriends and adopt a rescue puppy to keep her aging Labrador company.
At 44 years old Lynn thought she had cancer beat. Although she was in the best shape of her adult life, she started having pain in her back and in the center of her chest. She attributed the back pain to getting older and her doctor said the pain in her chest was just scar tissue. But the pain persisted. Finally Lynn was sent for a CT scan.
“If you ever get a call from your doctor at 5:00 pm and she asks if you’re driving, you need to know it’s not going to be good news,” Lynn says with a laugh.
It wasn’t good news. The scan found tumors from her femur to her brain.
“I didn’t even stop to think about what Stage 4 cancer meant. I guess you could call it plausible denial but my life is what it is and I just never stopped doing what I was doing. If you stop to think about it, it’ll kill you mentally,” she explains.
By this point in her life, Lynn had come a long way from being the woman who waited for five days for her first diagnosis. She learned to speak her mind, find doctors she could trust and she surrounded herself with family and friends who help to keep her family life moving when she is in treatment or recovering from it.
One of her favorite doctors became the soft spoken but powerful Dr. Shannon Kahn, a radiation oncologist at Winship Cancer Institute, Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital. Dr. Kahn specializes in Gamma Knife radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiotherapy and she has been published and trained in using these treatments to minimize side effects for patients.
“I actually found the Gamma Knife procedure quite calming. I had 21 brain tumors, but after six procedures, they were gone. Compared to all the things we go through as cancer patients, the side effects from radiation are not a big deal,” Lynn explains. “You’re in, you’re out and you get on with your life.”
“Gamma Knife is seven short hours of sleeping in a tube! Seriously, you arrive at the Gamma Knife center early in the morning and leave by about noon. I didn’t experience any side effects. Some people get a little bit of swelling around their eyes but that’s actually from the injections of saline and pain medication,” Lynn states.
Three years later, after more chemotherapy and countless radiation procedures, including treatment for 21 brain lesions, Lynn is once again cancer free and she has earned the distinction of having had the most Gamma Knife procedures of anyone at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital.
Lynn and her husband, April 2016
Today Lynn is back on the tennis court and she’s back to holding court in volunteer leadership roles at her children’s schools. She is an active breast cancer patient advocate working with Susan G. Komen Atlanta as a grant reviewer and supporting the Atlanta-based TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation. She’s also ecstatic to have been selected as a new consumer reviewer for the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs and looks forward to serving in the future.
Lynn wants people to know that no matter what happens it’s important to keep living your life as if nothing is different.
“Listen to your body. Speak up if you don’t like the answers you are getting. Take a nap if you need to but don’t give up. There are amazing technologies and medicines out there. Google those, don’t Google how long you’re expected to live.”
To read more Gamma Knife patient stories, visit www.GammaKnife.com.