Dripping cancer survivor featured in Austin fundraiser

Terry Voorheis. SUBMITTED PHOTO

By: 
Alice Adams

 

Dripping Springs Realtor Terry Voorheis never aspired to become a model, but she also never thought she’d develop breast cancer, either.

Her unexpected journey down the runway, June 2nd, began two years ago when she went to the radiologist in Buda for her annual mammogram. 

“They gave me the report, saying they wanted to take a closer look, Terry remembered. “I didn’t think too much of it until they wanted a needle biopsy and took several samples.”

THE DIAGNOSIS NO ONE EVER WANTS TO HEAR

The radiologist reported a Stage 0 Cancer and recommended a lumpectomy, a less radical procedure compared to a mastectomy (the surgical removal of the breast and often adjacent lymph nodes).

But in discussing her case and treatment options, Terry surprised her surgeon. “I have a family history of breast cancer. My grandmother and her two sisters were diagnosed and my mother’s older sister died of breast cancer,” she explained. “I also had followed actress Angelina Jolie and her decision to have a double mastectomy in an effort to prevent breast cancer she had traced through her family. 

“I had given the possibility of breast cancer a lot of thought and had made the decision years before my diagnosis, so I told my surgeon I wanted to have a double mastectomy, and after we discussed it, she agreed.”

But life has its way of throwing curved balls along the way, and for Terry, another surprise was looming. “My mom – Verna Smith – who lives in Sparta, Tennessee, was planning to come to Dripping and help during my recovery after the surgery,” the realtor remembered. “But before she left for Texas, my mother decided to get her own mammography done, just to check it off her list.”

Her mother’s mammography also had some questionable areas, so before she left Tennessee, she underwent a breast biopsy,’ 

Terry’s surgery was successfully performed at St. David’s Hospital in downtown Austin, and as in routine following mastectomy procedures, expanders were placed in her chest to begin the process of reconstructing the breasts that had been removed.

“Sometime during my hospital stay, Deanna Patrick from the Breast Cancer Resource Center spoke to my husband Randy, leaving her contact information and telling him to let her know if I needed anything,” said Terry. “Deanna also left a mastectomy vest for me to use during my recovery.”

Post-operatively, Terry found this vest – with its pockets for drains left in the incision sites – allowed her to return to most of her normal routine, which she valued since she had left her entire realty practice to her Avalar Realty partner, Kevin – her son. 

When her mother arrived from Tennessee, however, she was suffering from an infection that had occurred at her breast biopsy site. “Mom wasn’t doing well at all,” her daughter recalled. 

And then there was Terry’s follow-up visit with her surgeon. “The doctor told me they had found an invasive cancer in the breast tissue they had removed. She also told me my breast tissue was quite dense and because of this, the new cancer they found couldn’t have been seen on mammogram.”

Taking a deep breath, Terry also heard her surgeon say she felt Terry’s long-term prognosis was good, thanks to the double mastectomy, but recommended chemotherapy as soon as possible.

In the interim, Terry’s mom went home. “She also was diagnosed with breast cancer…and as she went through more tests, her radiologist saw a spot on her lung. However, a lung biopsy determined the spot was only scar tissue, but as the biopsy resulted in the lung collapsing.

“Mom went through the double mastectomy and developed a raging infection. Yet, once the infection cleared, her breasts were reconstructed. Mom required no chemo, no radiation. Today at age 77, she is cancer-free.’’

“I also sent her a mastectomy vest – which allowed her to get out of the house for grocery shopping and her regular routine for the two or three weeks her four drains remained in place.”

A 12-MONTH JOURNEY THROUGH TREATMENT

Meanwhile, Terry’s oncologist met with her to discuss treatment and gave her the name of the cancer she was dealing with: HER2-positive and Estrogen-positive breast cancer. 

According to Mayo Clinic, oncologist Dr. Timothy Moynihan, “HER2-positive breast cancer, is a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), which promotes the growth of cancer cells.

“In about one of every five breast cancers, the cancer cells have a gene mutation that makes an excess of the HER2 protein. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer

“Treatments that specifically target HER2 are very effective. These treatments are so effective that the prognosis for HER2-positive breast cancer is actually quite good.

Terry, with support of her husband Randy, facilities manager at the First United Methodist Church in Dripping Springs, her son Kevin, her extended family and friends, proved to be a real trooper and totally focused the defeat of her disease and the success of the chemotherapy and targeted drug infusions she would receive for the next 12 months. 

Throughout her recovery and treatment, Deanna – from the Breast Cancer Resource Center -- would call from time to time, just to see how Terry was doing.

“I did extremely well – no nausea, no other sickness,” she said. “The only real side effect was losing my hair. Mom also lost hers, but we have a picture we took where we both were wearing wigs. Overall, though, chemo was not as bad as I thought.”

Before her treatment started, Terry had a port implanted. According to the oncology department of Mayo Clinic: “If treatment includes intravenous infusion of chemotherapy, the oncologist may recommend a device, such as a catheter, port or pump. The catheter or other device is surgically implanted into a large vein, usually in your chest. Chemotherapy drugs can be given through the device.”

Terry’s port was removed six months ago, but she will be taking daily anti-estrogen pills for the next five years. 

THE UNUSUAL END TO AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

Terry Voorheis has nothing but high praise for the medical team that has accompanied her from mammogram, diagnosis, surgery, treatment and reconstruction. But her next steps…well, you be the judge.

The Breast Cancer Resource Center in provides help for all breast cancer patients. The idea for the center was created by two women – Ann and Sherry – going through treatment. They created a bond and in 1995, began the Resource Center with the mission of supporting and improving the lives of those touched by breast cancer. “We believe no one should face breast cancer alone,” their Mission Statement reads.

As a 501(c)3 – nonprofit – organization, the Center demands on donations and fundraisers. Their largest event – Art Bra Austin – has been held annually, and will be held this year at the JW Marriott on June 2nd, from 6-10 p.m.

Along with dinner and an auction, the main event will be the Art Bra style show, featuring 40 models – all breast cancer survivors – as they strut the 30-foot runway, modeling bras, designed by Austin’s talented community of artists, designers and jewelers. This year’s show also will feature an art bra designed and modeled by a breast cancer survivor.

Prior to the show, the art bras are submitted and juried by a panel of artists and designers. Approximately 40-50 pieces are selected from over 100 submissions to be offered for auction the night of the event. The top submissions are auctioned live during the runway show with winning bids as high as $14,500 for these one-of-a-kind creations.

After her reconstruction was completed by Dr. Enrico Piazza, Terry said she looked better than ever. “The doctor’s technique included wrapping the implants in fat liposuctioned from the patient’s thighs and abdomen, and the results speak for themselves.”

With her reconstruction complete, someone suggested that Terry apply to model in the Art Bra Auction event, which she did -- in March of this year – and was one of the 40 models selected from the hundreds of applicants. 

Since her selection, her schedule has been a whirlwind, including a long segment about the event on KEYE-TV’s “We Are Austin.”

When she was sharing the happy ending of her story with Dripping Springs Visitors Bureau Executive Pam Owens, she suggested she share her story with The Century News. 

In preparation for the style show, Terry had an opportunity to see some of the art bras to be shown. “The show, itself, is very theatrical, and the art bras are truly works of art, with beads, stones…even guitar picks, some donated by famous guitarists,” she said. “The picks, at first glance, look like sequins and the bra itself is beautiful.”

She said some of the Breast Cancer Resource Center staff encouraged her to try on a bra designed by an artist sponsored by her cosmetic surgeon. “It must have been the one for me,” Terry said, “because it fit perfectly.”

She’s also attended classes, learning to walk like a professional model and spent several hours at Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds, where a costume was designed to complement the art bra Terry will model. And another class taught choreography. The night of the show, the best of Austin’s hair stylists and make-up artists will add a big helping of glam to each model before she hits the runway.

“This is the Center’s major fundraiser,” Terry explained, so it’s important we present the art bras well. “Some of the bids on the bras being model go into the thousands because they are truly works of art,” she added.

“But the main reason I’m supporting the Breast Cancer Resource Center is because of the services they provide – from rides to doctors’ appointments, support groups, special equipment – whatever is needed.

“I feel like I’ve come full circle, and now it’s my time to give back to other women going through the same thing I did,” Terry continued. “One of my clients, a California vintner, sent six bottles of wine for the auction, my son and his girlfriend already had reserved front row seats, my mom and dad are coming and Mom has already bought an outfit for the event. She’s especially excited, but, best of all, she’s through reconstruction and – like me -- is fortunate to be feeling great and is doing well.”

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