DANVILLE, MONTOUR COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A major message for breast cancer awareness month is the importance of screenings, and it’s more than just doctors who are spreading that message, some patients are, too.

That patient is a Montour County woman who like so many other women didn’t think she would be diagnosed with breast cancer.

After her health struggle this year, she wants to make other women aware of what she calls “her mistake” that could have cost her her life.

“And this is a picture of my daughter Erika, my son, his wife Jaime, and myself at their wedding,” said Donita Harpster.

Donita Harpster can’t imagine her life without her children.

“I don’t know what I would do without her. She has helped me through so much,” Harpster told Eyewitness News. “They bring me so much joy.”

They seem to mean even more now since the 54-year-old Danville woman’s troubling health journey this year.

“We knew something was wrong but, um, it took a little while to find it out,” Harpster explained.

After feeling chronically tired for about two years, she did something she had been putting off even longer.

“You know, it’s just an uncomfortable thing to have done,” Harpster said.

She scheduled an overdue mammogram in March at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville. She got the results a few days later.

“When I did get the phone call, I broke down of course. Nobody wants to hear they have any form of cancer,” she said.

What the mammogram detected in her left breast was a cancerous mass that had to be removed.

“I was angry with myself because I left it go for so long because I let that six-year gap in there,” Harpster stated.

Despite her troubling news, Geisinger Cancer Surgeon Joe Blansfield says the breast cancer was only stage one when he removed the mass in May.

“Her nodes were negative for breast cancer. We also do a recurrence score,” said Dr. Blansfield.

And that, he says, showed a minimal risk Harpster would get breast cancer again. Still, her health battle hasn’t been easy.

“For breast cancer, there’s surgery, there’s radiation treatments, there’s hormonal therapies and sometimes chemotherapy,” Dr. Blansfield explained.

Besides a lumpectomy, Harpster required 19 radiation treatments.

“It was tiring. There are side effects,” Harpster told Eyewitness News.

She must also take daily hormone therapy medication for seven years to try and keep breast cancer recurrence at bay. But breast cancer isn’t her only health battle.

“I was having what they call thunderclap headaches,” she said.

Harpster was diagnosed this year with arteriovenous malformation, a tangle of blood vessels that connect arteries and veins in the brain. She’s had one radiation treatment for that.

“And then over the next couple of years what that will do is it will shrink it,” Harpster said.

“And has that helped with the headaches?” Eyewitness News reporter Mark Hiller asked.

“Somewhat yeah actually,” Harpster responded.

But she also got another troubling diagnosis.

“So I mean it was kind of like bam, bam, bam. Life-changing of course. You know what I mean?” Harpster told Eyewitness News.

Harpster is now fighting stage 4 non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. While she says doctors told her it’s not connected to her breast cancer, she cannot help but wonder if things would be different if she kept up with her annual mammograms for the past six years.

“By sharing my story with you, if I can just save one woman’s life, just one woman, that would just mean the world to me,” Harpster said.

The American Cancer Society says annual breast cancer screenings should be a part of a woman’s life beginning at 45, and as early as 40 if women want.
Talk to your doctor about the best screening plan for you.

Eyewitness News is partnering with the Times Leader this month for breast cancer awareness stories like this. Check out our reports at pahomepage.com and the Times Leader reports at timesleader.com.