A journey of resilience: One woman’s breast cancer story


by Baylor Scott & White Health

Dec 21, 2023

In February 2022, life took an unexpected turn for Deborah Michnick. A simple discovery, a lump in her left breast, set her on a path that would test her strength, resilience and hope. Her story is a testament to the power of perseverance and the unwavering support she received from her loved ones and a dedicated medical team.

An unexpected discovery and diagnosis

As someone who had always been conscientious about her health, Deborah was diligent in scheduling her yearly mammograms. Her family history of breast cancer only served to reinforce the importance of these regular checkups.

So when she found a lump, it completely caught her off guard. Despite her initial shock and worry, Deborah, scheduled an appointment with her OBGYN, who recommended a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound to determine the nature of the lump.

Their journey took a somber turn when they met with the radiologist, who, in the most direct manner possible, delivered the news that no one ever wants to hear: "Honey, you've got cancer," Deborah remembers.

It was a gut-wrenching moment that marked the beginning of her battle against breast cancer.deborah-breast-cancer-text-1.jpg

Further testing revealed that Deborah was facing a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer called triple negative, which tends to grow and spread faster than other types of breast cancer. Even more devastating was the news that the cancer had already metastasized to her liver, marking her as stage four from the start.

The shock was unimaginable, but the support she received from her medical team and her inner circle never wavered.

As Deborah came to terms with her diagnosis, her husband Robert began experiencing severe back pain. A trip to the ER led to a CT scan, and the doctor confirmed their worst fears: a mass on his kidney. The news was accompanied by another blow – a prostate cancer diagnosis.

Together with the medical team at Baylor University Medical Center, Robert began treatment immediately, and the couple embarked on their medical journey together. The mass on Robert’s kidney shrank by 50% and all lymph nodes returned to normal, but Deborah’s aggressive cancer required a different approach: clinical trials.

Clinical trials offer a beacon of hope

Deborah’s medical team recommended a clinical trial specifically tailored to her type of breast cancer. Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that evaluate the safety, effectiveness and potential side effects of new treatments and drugs. These trials are a crucial step in developing and testing new medical advancements, ensuring that they meet rigorous scientific and ethical standards.

“For metastatic triple negative breast cancer, the average survival has only been in the range of about a year and a half and the cure rate has historically been very low at around 5% or even less,” said Joyce O’Shaughnessy, MD, a medical oncologist at Baylor University Medical Center, part of Baylor Scott & Health.

Dr. O’Shaughnessy outlined two advancements from clinical trials in the last five to seven years that have impacted those living with breast cancer:

  • The introduction of immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells
  • A new method of packaging chemotherapy that allows medical teams to attach it to an antibody, a protein that goes directly to the cancer cell and delivers powerful chemotherapy into tumor

“With clinical trials, we as physicians get the opportunity to utilize these novel therapies and see firsthand how well they're working and what the side effects are,” said Dr. O’Shaughnessy.

While initially hesitant, as clinical trials are often seen as a last resort, Deborah decided to embrace the opportunity.

“I knew going into this whole journey that I did want to find an oncologist that wasn't just there for treatment, but they were also willing to do research, because there are so many new treatments and ideas and ways to look at things,” she said. 

It proved to be the turning point in her battle. The treatment, while challenging, started yielding positive results.

"The tumor in my breast has broken apart, it's gone. They can't find it. The spot on my liver is tiny, and it's not doing anything," Deborah said.

Together, Deborah and Robert continue to battle against their cancer diagnoses.

"We take care of each other, but we are also strong individuals and a little stubborn at times. That is what carries us on and allows us to fight this fight together and be there for each other,” she said. “I'm almost in remission and he's doing very, very well as his treatment is working too. I can't tell you how happy it all makes me."

Family history of breast cancer? Learn more about Baylor Scott & White’s breast cancer services and clinical trials.

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