Whitney Ortmeier was supposed to feel as if a huge weight had finally been lifted off her shoulders this past April. She was celebrating her 38th birthday on top of being five years cancer-free, a massive benchmark experts say is when the odds of a reoccurrence is no longer likely.
But Whitney and her family couldn’t help but notice some lingering anxiety.
“I still questioned it because I had [breast cancer] twice,” said Ortmeier, a longtime Flower Mound and Highland Village resident who works for the ML Group in Flower Mound. “I did the most drastic thing you can do, and it came right back.”
She added, “The anxiety is there, but the celebration is bigger. It worked out for me. It doesn’t work out for everyone.”
Whitney’s story of survival is one of the millions you will hear about as people all over the world pause for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women, with one in eight women being diagnosed in her lifetime. While breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women, there are still over 3.3 million survivors alive in the United States today.
Whitney survived two separate breast cancer diagnosis in two years, each in the month of April. The first was in 2013. Whitney and her husband had just sold their house and needed to be out in two weeks. After a long day of packing up the house and moving boxes, Whitney, who was 32 at the time, settled in to take a shower and discovered a painful lump on her left breast.
“I remember thinking, ‘What is that?’ It hurt, and they say cancer doesn’t hurt … so I just figured I was super sore from moving everything,” she recalled. “At the same time, the lump was huge.”
Whitney did the right thing and had the mass checked. Initial test results came back negative, but one of her doctors still felt like something wasn’t adding up. Sure enough, further biopsies revealed the cancer was everywhere in her breast. This set off a whirlwind chain of events that saw Whitney get a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery all to have the cancer return exactly a year later. At that point, she went through 44 rounds of radiation.
In between that, her and husband, Daniel, got pregnant with their second child but lost their baby at 14 weeks.
“Trying to explain every detail of the story is way too much because it’s the wildest thing ever with all the surgeries and being incredibly scared,” Whitney said. “[Death] did cross my mind, and Daniel was mad at God and everyone … but it’s something you just can’t control.
I did question, ‘will my daughter have a mommy?’ As a mother, you just try to keep going and
hope that God will heal me. I had a great team of doctors around me too.”
Whitney said her biggest message to other women is early detection and self-exams. Had she not found both lumps in a self-exam, and had her doctor not questioned the initial test results, things could have turned out much differently. And the statistics back that statement up. When breast cancer is detected early and is in the localized stage, the five-year relative survival rate is 100%.
“If you see or feel something, what’s the big deal in taking the time to go have it checked out?” Whitney said. “It may be something, or it may not be anything. But at least you can put your head on the pillow at night knowing it’s okay.”
She added. “I’m so excited because I’m still here and my daughter is now in the fifth grade. It’s happy tears because look at how far we’ve come. Five years is a big deal. We don’t take anything for granted.”
photo courtesy of Whitney Ortmeier