Sandra's Story

Sandra O’Neal was born November 23, 1950, in Amarillo, Texas and lived a relatively healthy life despite a family history of cancer. Even after an annual physical and mammogram in December 1997, everything seemed normal. Five months later, however, during a routine self-exam, Sandra discovered a lump in her right breast. She was immediately scheduled for surgery the next day.
A biopsy confirmed everyone’s fears -- breast cancer. Fortunately, the cancer had not spread and was localized in the breast tissue. After much research, Sandra elected to undergo breast preservation surgery followed by the removal of the affected lymph nodes a week later. Of the 23 removed nodes, 14 tested positive for cancer. It was determined from those results that Sandra, who was 48 years old, had Stage 2 Breast Cancer. The following weeks were filled with various tests including a bone scan, CAT scan, and an MRI. Each one revealed that the cancer had not spread anywhere else.
Sandra spent the next few months undergoing chemotherapy, followed by a stem cell transplant in December of 1998. The treatment seemed to be working. Six weeks later, she began six weeks of radiation therapy.
For the next few years, Sandra became vigilant about monitoring the cancer through regular testing and scanning. Each time the tests came back negative. The doctors informed Sandra and her family that if she could remain cancer-free for five years, she would have the same life expectancy as someone who had never had the disease.
Then on December 25, 2002, just five months away from that five-year goal, Sandra became very ill. She was rushed to the emergency room and following a CAT scan, the doctor delivered heartbreaking results: the breast cancer had metastasized to the brain. There was an orange-sized tumor on the right side of the brain that needed to be removed as soon as possible. True to her strong nature, Sandra successfully survived the four-hour surgery and remained in the hospital only four days. Again, she went through a series of tests, all of which showed that the cancer had not spread to any other parts of her body.
For the next few years, Sandra underwent three additional surgeries on her brain to remove areas of recurring cancer followed by a high-dosage radiation treatment that specifically targeted the area of the brain that doctors thought contained the cancer. Despite their efforts, the cancer began to metastasize aggressively.
Through all the ups and downs that this disease brought into her life, Sandra always remained positive, putting up the biggest fight of her life against a silent killer, which eventually got the best of her. On April 10, 2006, at the age of 55, Sandra O’Neal lost her battle with cancer.
Sandra was a wonderful mother, grandmother, friend, daughter, and sister. If she had access to more thorough screenings, her life could have possibly been spared from this disease. This institute, founded in her honor, is dedicated to the promotion of early detection. Find out your risk factor. Discuss advanced screenings like Breast MRI or PEM (Positron Emission Mammography) with your doctor. Remember, early detection is key. The Sandra O’Neal Institute is advancing the fight against breast cancer.
Copyright 2017. Sandra O'Neal Institute of North Texas
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