‘Bald’ buddies support Dayton cancer patient
“You can’t always trust a politician,” said Capt. John Coleman with the Dayton Police Department as he laughed about him and city councilman Troy Barton shaving their heads Wednesday afternoon.
The pair, along with Dayton Mayor Jeff Lambright, City Manager Theo Melancon, and Police Chief John Headrick were sheared for a good reason.
It was the first time Dana Shepard had been outside with her bald head exposed. Like most cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, the grueling treatment damages the hair follicles and alopecia, the fancy word for hair loss, becomes a symbol to the world that you’re a cancer patient.
But a group of friends, close to Shepard, wasn’t about to allow her to be singled out. As a sign of their support, they took a trek down to C’s Barber Shop in downtown Dayton and lopped off their own hair.
The friends discovered bald is beautiful.
“It was discussed after council meeting Monday night,” Coleman said, “and I was there to take photos.”
The next thing he knew, he had been challenged to have his long locks trimmed along with Councilman Barton.
“I wasn’t about to do it unless we did it at the same time,” he laughed.
Barton promised to do his when he got back from vacation for fear he might get sunburned on a newly shaved head. But he and Coleman negotiated the deal and each, with shears in their hands, cut the other’s hair enough to assure they would follow through that day.
Melancon was the first in the chair, then the others followed.
While there was much laughter and carrying on, and it did bring many smiles and laughter from Shepard. Her husband Alvin Burress told the Dayton News it has been a tough road.
Shepard had been at her primary care doctor for a Well Woman exam and was already aware that she had a lump on her left breast.
“I noticed a year ago and put it off,” she said. “That was my mistake.”
She was hoping it would be nothing more than a non-cancerous gland tumor and she brushed it off.
“My mom never had it,” she said and with no history, she never thought it would affect her.
They were referred to The Rose who did her biopsy.
Shepard wrote down her husband’s phone number as the contact for notification.
“If I was going to hear bad news, I wanted to hear it from him,” she said.
When she arrived home on Nov. 21, she noticed his truck was still in the driveway and he should have been gone to work.
“He was standing in the garage, I got out of the car and walked up to him,” she said.
He turned around with tears in his eyes.
“I knew. So, he had received the call that I had cancer,” she said.
It was one of the hardest things Burress said he had ever done in his life.
“You don’t dream about that. There’s no way to prepare for it. I tried in a million ways in my mind how I was going to do it,” he said.
The couple went inside and sat and talked about it. And cried.
They made up their mind that this was going to be temporary. They made up their mind to fight.
She was told she had Stage 2B Invasive Lobular Carcinoma (ILC) and would have to have a mastectomy because of the size of the tumor. ILC is the most common form of breast cancer and doctors at M. D. Anderson already had a plan for Dana.
Originally, she was scheduled for a lumpectomy, but doctors discovered a second, larger tumor and opted for a complete mastectomy.
She had the surgery on Jan. 24.
“That was a challenge all on its own, but M. D. Anderson is so organized,” he said.
A port surgery followed on Feb. 21 to prepare her for chemotherapy.
“I just had my first treatment on March 21,” she said with adriamycin, a drug that has been knick-named as ‘The Red Devil.’
“And it is,” she said definitively.
She’ll have four rounds of that, one every three weeks and end it with a different regimen of 12 weeks of taxol, one treatment every week.
Shepard said she should be finished up by the middle of August.
Burress said the prognosis looks good.
“They believe they removed all of the cancer and even removed three lymph nodes,” he said. There were only traces of the cells in one of the lymph nodes, none in the others. That’s why the doctors opted for the chemotherapy to make sure it was completely gone. A body and bone scans and found it nowhere else in her body.
“If I could say anything to women, it would be to not put it off. When they tell you to check yourself, you should do it,” she said.
Shepard said her Bible has been more of a comfort and friend to her than ever before.
“That was wonderful,” she said about the boys getting together to shave their heads.
“To see them bald-headed like that, I just didn’t care and showed my head too,” she said.
For Burress, his life has changed too.
“You know how much I love our city, but I’ve had to curtail some of my activities to take care of my wife,” he said.
He has spent much of the last two months off work at Covestro so that he could be with his wife as she traveled this journey.
“The response from the fire department, the community, our city friends, and our neighbors has been overwhelming,” he said. He said he didn’t have to cook for almost a month once she got home from the hospital.
“It’s outstanding how the community has reached out to us. There’s other people out there who also need our support. We want to make sure they are helped too,” he said.
Burress was grateful to his city friends for showing their support.
“Those guys really showed it today. It was Adam Piserelli that did the cuts for them. John Headrick, John Coleman, Troy Barton, Jeff Lambright, and Theo Melancon who got their heads shaved. It was a lot of fun, and we really appreciate the support. We’re all family,” he said.