My Miracle Friend, Darlene

Darlene and her son Cameron

Darlene and her son Cameron

I wanted to share this blog post from my personal page because, as metastatic breast cancer survivors, we need to hear stories of hope and learn from them. I call Darlene Gant a miracle, but it makes it sound like her survival is an act of God that she passively received. I’m not saying God didn’t have a hand in her experience, but Darlene is anything but passive. In fact, calling her proactive would be an understatement!

I’ve gotten to know some pretty amazing people on this crazy cancer ride.  But I’d have to say my friend Darlene has one of the most dramatic stories of any I’ve heard. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen it remarkably unfold over the past several years. I feel like I’ve had at the privilege of personally witnessing a miracle.

I met Darlene at the Annie Appleseed CAM for Cancer conference about four years ago. Darlene was on a speaker panel sharing how she used alternative methods to beat back cancer. She, I and three other metastatic breast cancer survivors bonded and continued to keep in touch. Tragically, two of the women — Ashley Oehler (with whom I traveled and roomed) and Eleanor Alston — passed away in the years that followed. Then Darlene got sick … really sick.

I remember checking Facebook in March 2012 while I was waiting on a hair appointment and seeing Darlene’s heart-breaking video. Darlene was entering hospice. Her liver was shutting down, and the end seemed inevitable. Darlene was talking to her husband Brian about signing birthday cards for 11-year-old son Cameron, one for every year after she died.

“I started crying and told Brian to turn on the video camera,” Darlene says. “I wanted to show the raw face of cancer.”

At first, she wanted the video to be shown after she died to help motivate others to donate for a cure. But a friend talked her into not giving up and posting it on YouTube as a plea to gain compassionate use for the then-experimental drug, Perjeta. Darlene didn’t qualify for its clinical trial, and she saw it as her only hope.  The video went immediately viral. with more than 120,000 hits, prompting more than 70 news outlets worldwide, including CNN and the Washington Post,  to cover her story. She soon received a call from the FDA, saying they were willing to give it to her; it was the drug’s manufacturer that was the hold-out. After a grueling battle, Darlene received the medication on April 27, 2012, and started to see immediate improvement.

Still, the battle was not over. Her liver was riddled with tumors and not functioning. Surgeons at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa skillfully threaded drains around the lesions to release the built-up bile and empty it into a bag that was her constant companion. It was not an easy procedure; she nearly died from it. At first she was told she would never get the drain out. Most patients either get it removed in a few weeks or die from infection. Determined, Darlene created her own regimen to keep the site sterile, and every six to eight weeks went into surgery to have it replaced.

As promising as Perjeta was, it has an average of three-six month progression-free survival rate. It rarely shrinks tumors. Last month, Darlene had a scan, which showed amazing results: not only had her liver tumors decreased; new, healthy liver tissue was growing. And finally,16 months after placing them, her surgeon was able to remove her drains. She awoke from the short surgery to a team of doctors with tears in their eyes. It was nothing short of miraculous.

Darlene tells me that Moffitt has changed some of their protocols regarding stage IV patients as a result of her case. They no longer give up on patients because they statistically aren’t supposed to make it. Doctors and administrators have stopped her in the halls, telling her how many thousands of patients she has affected by her determination and advocacy.

While Darlene credits her amazing doctors, she also attributes prayer, energy work, eating whole organic foods and keeping stress to a minimum to her amazing recovery. She did, however, ease her diet restrictions on Memorial Day by hosting a big barbecue pool party at her house. She sported a cute two-piece baring her tubeless and bag-less midriff. It was what she had dreamed about all these months – getting into a bathing suit and enjoying the sun.  That and dancing at Cameron’s wedding someday. I’ll be there, Darlene, with bells on.

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