If you have ever visited The Graivier Center, chances are you have seen or met Dawn Matela. She is a Post Op Registered Nurse at the center. Her infectious smile and sparkling personality makes it impossible to not immediately feel at ease when meeting her. It was surprising to learn that this upbeat, 42 year old wife and mother of two young boys was also battling breast cancer. We asked Dawn if she would share her journey with cancer with us for Breast Cancer Awareness month. This is her story…
Dawn was diagnosed with Stage Two infiltrating breast cancer on July 2013. She had gone in on a Friday to get her annual mammogram. At that time, she had decided to receive a 3-D mammogram called a breast tomosynthesis. She was told that they would not have the results until after the weekend. On Monday, Dawn kept checking her phone to see if they had called. Finally, near the end of the day, she made the decision to contact them. Within a minute of the conversation, she knew by the tone of their voice that something was wrong. They had found a tumor at the back of her chest wall. In hindsight, she credits the 3-D mammogram for her diagnosis. Her treatment consisted of a total of 17 rounds of chemotherapy, 28 doses of radiation, a double mastectomy, and breast reconstruction. In the beginning, Dawn only confided in her husband and sister. It took her a long time to say the words, “I have cancer.” Throughout it all, her husband has been her “Rock.” It was her husband that initially connected her with other survivors.
When Dawn got the results back from a later MRI, she knew that the best course of action was for her to undergo a double mastectomy. She immediately began researching plastic surgeons. While looking at the list of names she had compiled, she realized that, while they were all very qualified, they were nothing more than names on a piece of paper. She felt no connection to them. Her co-workers at The Graivier Center recommended that she speak with Dr. Miles Graivier and ask him to perform the reconstructive surgery. Since she had only started at the job a few months earlier, she had not thought to ask her new boss to do her surgery. Dawn had worked at Northside Hospital for over 13 years when the job at The Graivier Center opened up. She wasn’t looking for a new job but credits a “little voice” for telling her “maybe it’s time for a change.”
Dr. Graivier offered to do the breast reconstruction surgery and suggested that they perform both the double mastectomy and reconstruction surgeries together. He reached out to Dawn’s other surgeon, who coincidently worked under Dr. Graivier in the past, and made the necessary arrangements. When her other surgeon couldn’t get a surgery date for months, Dr. Graivier called the hospital and was able to get an earlier date set. “Dr. Graivier was so good to me. Once I spoke with him and we had agreed on a set plan of action, he took care of everything else for me. I believe that this job was placed to me for a reason. God didn’t give me this cancer but he gave me a way to deal with it.”
The Next Stage
“I feel like I owe Dr. Graivier the world.” Dawn admits that the recovery was difficult but does not regret her choice to have both procedures done at once. “It meant one less surgery I had to go through.” When asked if her cancer journey has changed her, she replied, “Cancer has put things into perspective and taught us what was important.” Dawn says she has noticed a change in her two boys and that this experience has made them more compassionate and empathetic. Dawn recently completed her last chemo session on July 30th and is now considered cancer free. She plans to celebrate her one-year anniversary this October with a “Blessings Party.” She said that she wants to be surrounded by all the people who she considers a blessing in her life.