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A New Lease on Life

Madelyn Warrenfells says breast cancer changed her life — but not in the way people might think.

After a lumpectomy surgery, 37 weeks of radiation and a Tamoxifen regimen that still makes it hard to sleep, people might expect Warrenfells to be weary from her battle with breast cancer.

But it’s quite the opposite. Having breast cancer changed her life for the better, said Warrenfells who was diagnosed with a high-grade ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in June 2014.

“This was such a veiled blessing,” Warrenfells said. “I’m used to being on my own and doing everything myself, but all of the sudden, I had people pouring out of the woodwork wanting to help me — bringing me dinner, doing my yard work, asking me what I needed.”

A single mom with an extremely busy career, Warrenfells was tremendously grateful and touched by what unfolded around her.

“It was just amazing to see this extraordinary support system that was all around me when I needed it,” she said. “It made me appreciate my family, my friends, my church, my health and my whole life so much more.”

Warrenfells said her faith was also a big source of strength and her church provided tremendous support. She attends church and teaches Sunday school at First Baptist Church in Bremen.

“I’m a woman of very strong faith, so I wasn’t terribly worried about the diagnosis,” she said. “I felt like this was just the road that I’m going to have to walk down.”

Of course, it wasn’t the easiest path.

Her treatment started with a lumpectomy surgery. Then she endured 37 weeks of radiation. However, she considers herself very lucky because she didn’t have to have chemotherapy.

Warrenfells, who is the human resources director of the Technical College System of Georgia, works in Atlanta three days a week and works from home in Bremen the other two days. She had to adjust her work hours and her work travel schedule during her cancer treatment.

“I’d have to leave work early to go to radiation and I’d get behind on things, but everyone was so understanding,” she said. “I have a very busy job where I never have a boring day, so it was a pretty hectic time.”

One of the hardest parts of treatment was the Tamoxifen regimen. Tamoxifen is a drug

prescribed to breast cancer patients to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurring.

“It made me so sick that I was waking up every hour from hot flashes and I was missing work,” she recalled. “I was miserable.”

Warrenfells was supposed to take Tamoxifen every day for at least five years.

She desperately wanted to stop taking it, but her doctor helped her understand why it was so important to stick with it. Raul Zunzunegui, MD, a Susan G. Komen Fellowship-trained breast specialist who is board certified in surgery, was her breast surgeon at Tanner Health System.

“Tamoxifen attaches to the hormone receptors in the cancer cells — blocking estrogen from attaching to the receptors,” explained Dr. Zunzunegui. “This prevents the cancer cells from getting the hormones they need to grow and reduces the risk that the cancer will recur.”

Dr. Zunzunegui also told her that the type of cancer she had has a very low rate of recurrence, but if it does return, it is often very aggressive. Her conversation with Dr. Zunzunegui helped her find the determination to keep taking Tamoxifen.

“Dr. Zunzunegui is always so compassionate and patient — you never feel like he is too busy to help you understand something,” Warrenfells said. “He explained exactly what Tamoxifen does and even drew me a picture of how the hormone receptors work.”

About a month after her radiation treatment ended, Warrenfells decided to renew her focus on physical fitness. She set a goal to exercise for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. She stuck with it and most days walked for an hour.

“I didn’t do it just for my body — I also did it for my mental health,” she said. “A lot of the time when I was walking I’d be in prayer — sometimes out loud — and I’m sure people looked at me and thought I was a weird lady, but it was very therapeutic for me.”

She added in some core exercises and started running in place for 30 minutes while watching television. Exercise became a hugely important part of her life.

“I’m a real advocate for exercise now, and I know I’m going to do this forever,” she said. “It was a life-changing experience for me.”

Another surprise blessing was that she lost 15 pounds from exercising and started fitting into old clothes that she hadn’t worn in a long time. At 51, she weighs 125 pounds.

As a cancer survivor, she is grateful for her health and feels wonderful about her life. Her professional life remains fulfilling, and her personal life is happier than ever. She is extremely proud of her 18-year-old daughter, who just left to start college.

Warrenfells is also beaming about another great blessing. She is happily engaged to be married on Oct. 24.

“Everything is just blossoming, and my life has changed for the better,” she said. “But I don’t take anything for granted because I know how important it is to seize every moment of every day.”

Photo caption:
Madelyn Warrenfells and her fiancé, Steve Brown, plan to celebrate her recovery from breast cancer — and their new life together. The couple are to be married Oct. 24, 2015.

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