PINE TOWNSHIP – The pages of Briana Banner’s bright pink journal show the ups and downs of her battle with breast cancer. The final entry says it all.
On the entry for June 27, 2018, she wrote the words, “CANCER IS GONE!” in big block letters across two pages to mark the day she learned that chemotherapy had done its job.
“They couldn’t find the tumor,” Banner, 43, said as she sat at the kitchen table of her Pine Township home.
As Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, she’s been thinking about her own battle and how it changed her family’s life.
The Clarion native had no family history of breast cancer, but she was concerned when she found a lump near her right armpit in early November 2017.
She had been cleaning up after building a Lego police station with her three kids when she got a weird feeling in her side. Her hand found the lump right away.
Banner called her doctor’s office the next day, and they ordered a mammogram and ultrasound. She had been scheduled for her first mammogram that December.
While she waited for the test results, she tried to distract herself with family and work.
Banner is the office manager at Heritage Elder Law and Estate Planning LLC in Butler, which is owned by her husband of 17 years, attorney Jeffrey Banner.
Their children are Caden, 13; Chloe, 10; and Colten, 7. Banner, who also worked in the banking industry, is a graduate of Penn State and the University of North Florida.
Banner had a biopsy right before Thanksgiving, and the radiologist told her that things didn’t look good. Even though no one in the doctor’s office used the word “cancer,” she couldn’t help thinking it.
“I had a breakdown in the car,” Banner said.
As they waited for the result, Banner and her husband knew she might have had cancer, but no one else did and she tried to celebrate the holiday as normal for their children’s sake.
On Nov. 28, she was home with the children when she got a phone call telling her that she had tested positive for invasive ductal carcinoma – one of the most common types of breast cancer.
She was “triple negative,” which is a more-rare type of cancer with no known cause.
Her husband came home right away, and she said things seemed to happen quickly.
Banner’s tumor measured 3.7 centimeters, and she likely had it for two years before she found the lump.
“Then I got angry,” she said of trying to make sense of it.
Invasive ductal carcinoma starts in the milk ducts and metastasizes, and she learned that the “triple negative” designation is often linked to stress.
The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Just before Christmas, Banner started aggressive chemotherapy, with sessions every two weeks for six months at what is now AHN Grove City hospital in Pine Township.
Banner said her oncologist, Dr. Edgardo Lob, and his staff were amazing. The experience showed her that it takes special people to help cancer patients.
“We would joke and laugh and cry,” Banner said about her treatments.
She was often accompanied by her mother-in-law, Nancy Banner, and she experienced “every side effect” of chemotherapy. The treatments exhausted her, she lost weight and had blisters in her mouth.
Before she started treatments, Banner had shaved her head because she didn’t want to watch her hair fall out.
She said it was very difficult to explain the cancer to her children, and they took it hard.
Banner felt it was important for her to remain positive so they wouldn’t look back on that time with bad memories. Faith played an important role in keeping the entire family’s spirits up.
She expressed gratitude for support from their worship home, Grove City Alliance Church, and a community of friends, family, and area women who are breast cancer survivors.
Her children celebrated – with fudge brownies and balloons – the final chemotherapy treatment on June 22, 2018.
She had a lumpectomy that July and marked that occasion with a girls’ trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Banner then completed 21 days of radiation that wrapped up in October 2018.
Her experience of discovering her own breast cancer through self-examination serves as a reminder for women to check themselves and pay attention to their bodies, and schedule mammograms when their doctors recommend it, she said.
Banner said everyone can mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month by supporting someone with the disease, she said, adding that she was able to reach out another woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I’m willing to talk to anyone,” she said.
Banner wanted to do something for other cancer patients at AHN Grove City as a way to “pay it forward” after her time there.
Banner was a co-leader with a Girl Scout troop in 2019, and the scouts donated bells, attached to ribbons, to the hospital, which Banner said was a nod to the cancer patients’ tradition of “ringing the bell” after completing chemotherapy.
She and her husband chose a permanent way – matching cross tattoos on their wrists – to honor her journey.
“That’s a constant reminder that God was with me,” Banner said.