October: Breast Cancer awareness Dodi Barron Groves: her battle with breast cancer

No parent wants to consider having to bury a child, no matter what the age.

Now that child has grown and is a parent herself, but the thinking has changed. Instead of thinking that she doesn’t want to have to bury her own child, she says she wants to be around to see her child grow up and mature through life. The difference in the two situations is the first statement is made up of two healthy people. The second scenario is made up of a three-year-old daughter and a mother with breast cancer.

Dodi Barron married Bryan Groves almost ten years ago in an outdoor ceremony at Rip van Winkle Gardens. She has been working with children as a kindergarten teacher for almost 15 years and knew that they wanted a family. As it happens for some couples, having children didn’t come easily. And, after seven years, and procedures later, in vitro fertilization brought Ava Grace into their lives.

Life moved on for the family and now her own mother needs help. Dodi’s mom had heart problems at the end of January 2007 and went through open heart surgery. Just a little stressful for the family, but she came through in good shape in the end. Then, later in 2007, Dodi and Bryan went back to their baby doctor with the hopes of a second child.

So here’s a young mother and wife setting up home in a quiet neighborhood that is lined with huge, magnificent live oak trees, cats and squirrels chasing across the lawns and the music from the ULL marching band practice session drifting in on the breeze. The sunlight filters through the trees to highlight the flowers and shrubs that all add to the homeliness of the scene. Norman Rockwell would have been proud to have painted the image of this neighborhood.

Then the young mother and teacher decides to do a self-exam of her breasts. She still has another three years to go before the suggested starting age of 40 to have a mammogram done, but decides she needs to do this for herself. She went looking for any signs of a lump, and found one.

After finding the lump, an appointment with her gynocologist followed, along with an ultrasound the next day. The following week, vacation had already been planned so they went to Florida for Spring Break. While they were there, a call came from home that mom was back in the hospital. When they made the decision to come back home early from vacation, they also made the decision to have a biopsy on the lump done when they got home. As it turned out, Dodi went into the hospital for her biopsy on the same day her mother was released from the same hospital.

“I decided I needed to have positive mental attitude; that I needed to stay strong because I didn’t want to miss out on spending time with my daughter and husband,” said Dodi. “I fought too hard to have my only child and I can’t just give up. There is no family history of cancer and I don’t smoke. I didn’t feel bad, but the next thing I knew I was going into surgery to have a mastectomy done and would then be off to chemo treatments.”

The lump was limited to the milk duct glands and was a long shape instead of a simple circular lump. The initial diagnosis had it limited to the glands, which would have meant an easier treatment. Surgery was successful; however, it was also different than planned. The initial plan was to remove the lump and do reconstructive surgery all at the same time. The plastic surgeon would take over as soon as the surgery was over. However, hidden behind the lump was a tumor that had spread to five of her 21 lymphnodes.

She has taken the year off from teaching to get her strength back from the chemo treatments. “I really struggled with this decision but realize it worked out for the best because my patience is gone right now. Even bathing Ava is exhausting to do,” said Dodi. “Removing my breast wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s a replaceable part, but my time with my child and husband is not. After the surgery, it took almost five weeks for me to be able to try to put on a T-shirt. Lifting my hands over my head was the hard part.”

Following surgery, Dodi discovered the art of bribing her daughter. Part of her instructions were not to pick up Ava for six weeks. A well-stocked supply of Smarties candy soon became the method of getting her to climb up into her chair on her own. However, Ava quickly let on that she knew her mom was hurting and that some things around home were different now.

“We had gotten out of the habit of rocking Ava to sleep at night,” said Dodi. “But, then she would come up to me and ask me to rock her. When I told her I couldn’t, she said ‘no, not that side; the good side.’ I had a bandaid over the injection port for the chemo treatments, and, at times, Ava would bring me one of her princess bandaids to use as well.”

Dodi said that her mother’s scar from open heart surgery had made Ava a little nervous, so she didn’t want to unsettle the child any more than letting her know that she had a smaller scar than grandma.

“Losing my hair was harder for me personally than losing my breast,” commented Dodi. “It’s easy to hide a missing breast with a prosthesis, but after my first chemo treatment, my hair started coming out in clumps. What was really had was when Ava touched my hair and looked up at me with a huge clump of hair in her hand.”

“I’ve always had really curly hair, but they didn’t have any like that at the wig store. Then I realized flowers grow back and so would my hair. I have four wigs to wear; two are more of my favorites through.”

“I thought in the heat of the summer that I would wear scarves all the time. One day this summer, I was taking Ava in to day care and forgot to put on my hair and she called me a ‘silly willy’ because I forgot to put on my hair. In public, I always wear my hair. It’s part of what you do to make yourself presentable in public. People can always tell there’s something wrong if you don’t have any hair, and I just don’t want any of the stares or comments people make when they know something’s really wrong.”

Dodi said that they call their dealings with her cancer their “journeys”. It includes family, siblings and friends as they all go through each phase of the journey. Her girlfriends got her moving out of the house after surgery. She said she felt insecure at first about leaving home; but said she realized she would have to learn how to act in public again as though nothing was wrong with her body.

The thought of removing the other breast has been discussed as well in the Groves household, along with the possibility of reconstructive surgery for either the one or both of her breasts. She said as a young family with a young child, they are out among friends and in the swimming pools.

Dodi also reported that Bryan has come through the challenges as well. She said he has managed the extra duties of parenting and chauffeur for Ava so that she could take the time she needs to heal and get back into the game. The one thing she said Bryan had trouble handling was that, as a man, he couldn’t “fix” the problem for her. He did, however, manage to lose 30 pounds through the ordeal.

“A positive attitude has helped me so much, especially on my down days,” said Dodi. “I know I have to move on; that I still have a good life, but I’ve also learned to realize what is important in life.”

FRIDAY, MAY 16, 2008 08:57 PM, CDT

April 24th 2008 was the day of my surgery. I was nervous but ready to get the surgery behind me.

Well, surgery did not go like we had planned. The cancer had spread into my lymph nodes. 5 out of 21 tested positive. The Doctor said he had a clean margin around the area and was happy with that. But we were not able to do reconstruction at this time.

SATURDAY, JUNE 07, 2008 08:35 AM, CDT

Good morning!

Today is Saturday and I feel fine. Thursday I was just so tired. All I did was load and unload the dishwasher, shower and play (very little) with Ava and I could not wait to go to sleep early! Mom and Dad are celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary!!!! What started out as two high school sweethearts turned into a 50 year journey! Wow, what a wonderful example of love and marriage they have been!!!!

 THURSDAY, JUNE 05, 2008 08:19 AM, CDT

Starting off better today. Still aching, but not as bad and have a headache. Hopefully I will feel better as the day goes on. I hope yesterday was the worst part of it.

 WEDNESDAY, JUNE 04, 2008 06:17 PM, CDT

Not a great day. In fact, I’m still in my pj’s! Just didn’t feel like getting dressed today. Started to feel the aching last night and nauseous during the night and this morning. Feels like the flu! Dad came to sit with me this morning and I sent him home for the afternoon

MONDAY, JUNE 16, 2008 09:24 PM, CDT

This weekend my hair started shedding and yesterday it started falling out! Every time I touch it a handful comes out. It’s not in patches or big clumps, just thinning out. Not sure what I will do. I do not like the hair falling out all day long, all over the place but I’m not sure that I am ready for it all to be gone. I’m thinking of either cutting it shorter or just cutting it all off. Not sure and I will let you know when I figure it out.

THURSDAY, AUGUST 07, 2008 02:47 PM, CDT

Well, school is starting and I am not there. It is weird but I am kind of enjoying it. I did go visit the teachers Wednesday and try and find where my little fishes were going for First grade. (At school I’m the Ocean or Fish class) If you are one of my parents from school, please give your child a big hug and kiss from me. Tell them I miss them and I am thinking of them.

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2008 10:08 PM, CDT

I do not know how long it will be before I will not need my wig. Funny story - I was bringing Ava to school Friday and I go around at home and in the neighborhood bald, well, I was walking out the door without my wig and Ava looks up at me and said,” Mom, you forgot your hair Silly Willy!” I thought it was cute.


This weekend, all of the girls in my family went wedding dress shopping for my niece Lauren that is getting married in July. When they picked me up, everyone was wearing a pink Breast Cancer band to support me. So they gave me one too. And Ava will be the flower girl!!! Won’t she be cute!!

MONDAY, OCTOBER 06, 2008 09:35 PM, CDT

Two more treatments to go, Two more treatment to go...WooHoo!!!!!!! (Yes, you should be singing this!)

Today my niece Lauren went to treatment with me. My numbers were all good and NO shot!!!! I’m so happy I only have two more to go, 14 down!!!! It’s hard to believe we have been on this journey since March. What a year!!

So, after my 2 more chemo’s, I will be off for a little more than a month and then start Radiation. 2008 was not so great - we are ready for 2009!!!!!!

I went for my yearly visit with my GYN last week. Oh yea, I had a good week last week, much better than the week before. Anyway, I was grumpy and pouted because I had to go. I just did not want to go to another doctor!!! But, one good thing, he gave me a script for something that should help me at night with my HOT FLASHES!!! Yea Ha!!!!!! I’m so tired of HOT, COLD all night long. Cover, uncover, cover, uncover, hot, cold, hot, cold!!!!!

So Ava went on her first field trip to the pumpkin patch on Friday. I think I was more excited about going than her! She had a ball. She loved the school bus and bringing her lunch in her ladybug lunch box!!! Yes, I had to warn my child (a teacher’s child) that if she did not stop running (she was so exited) she would have to walk with her Teacher!!!!! She had so much fun. And tonight I put my crafty teacher skills to work making her class a book from the photos I took on the field trip. Yes, I miss the fun things I did in my classroom with the kids. So, I guess her teachers will have to put up with me this year (that or I will spoil them!)

I want to tell Bryan thanks for all of the love, support and help he has been giving me all of this time. But most of all, thanks for the flowers and chocolate, they make me very happy!!! I love you!!!

Have a great week. If I can smile and be happy, so can you!!!!!

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