Cancer made her an expert in survival

Dawn Capone was in an accident that nearly killed her, but it also maybe saved her life.
Dawn Capone was in an accident that nearly killed her, but it also maybe saved her life.
Posted: October 12, 2012

Through Oct. 17, Philly.com and The Inquirer will mark breast cancer awareness month by publishing a profile a day of transformative moments reported by patients. The series will culminate in a special Philly.com/Inquirer/Daily News section on Oct. 18, and can be viewed at www.philly.com/breastcancer.

Dawn Capone crashed into a tractor-trailer parked on I-95 and driven by, she says, "a man with a huge criminal record who was high."

The accident nearly killed her, but it also might have saved her life.

Among many injuries were "a large bruise and lump" on her right breast, what doctors called a hematoma. For months, it didn't heal.

"After noticing it changing shapes and sizes," Dawn said, "I convinced my primary-care physician to send me for testing."

In January 2010, at age 37, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I guess the bruises were right over the tumor," Dawn said. "The trauma to the tumor itself caused it to grow rapidly."

Following the diagnosis, a most painful and traumatic odyssey ensued.

"I had no kids and was actively - desperately - trying to get pregnant at the time," Dawn explained. "So I immediately went through the process of fertility preservation."

She had surgery to harvest four zygotes on a Sunday in March - and began chemotherapy two days later.

"By the weekend I became violently ill," she said. "I was writhing in pain. My stomach swelled up as if I were pregnant, and I ended up hospitalized."

She passed the weekend in the hospital. "We're fighting raging infections but no one knows why," she said. "Eventually they go in laparoscopically and find that I've developed a very severe case of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome," a rare complication from fertility drugs.

It is as bad as it sounds.

Surgery lasted 12 hours. Her ovaries had to be removed, she said, "as well as lots of other repairs and removal of organs. I was placed in a medically induced coma for eight days while they repeatedly did surgeries and tried to fix me up enough to close the massive wound."

Dawn believes the fertility surgery two days before the chemo caused her problems.

"I was in the hospital a total of two months and then had to go to a nursing home to rehab, relearn to walk, climb stairs, really do everything," she said. "I wore a wound vac for months. Eventually I was well enough to deal with cancer treatment.

"In June 2010 I had my mastectomy but was too sick to even consider reconstruction yet. I finished chemo in Dec 2010, took a couple months, then started a pretty intense round of radiation. I finally have fully reconstructed breasts as of this past April.

"And I am cancer free."

When her nightmare began, Dawn was a family therapist starting a practice helping families in difficult custody situations.

Her focus has changed.

"I'm still working on picking up the pieces financially that cancer totally messed up!" she said. "However, now I'm working on creating a private practice focusing on helping breast cancer patients deal with their feelings while negotiating treatment."

Her experience, she said, has taught her that "life is too short to surround yourself in negativity." And one other thing, as well:

"My eyes became wide open to the fact that I am still here because my work here is incomplete. Right now I know I'm here to teach others how to survive, because I'm an expert at it!"

- Michael Vitez


Contact Michael Vitez at mvitez@phillynews.com or 215-854-5639.

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