Deanna Favre, wife of Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, gained notoriety when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Although Favre is self-described as very shy, she overcame her shyness to reach out and tell her story. Now she is cancer-free and has become a leading activist, speaking and raising funds for financially disadvantaged women with cancer through the Deanna Favre HOPE Foundation.
Favre's memoir, "Don't Bet Against Me!: Beating the Odds Against Breast Cancer and in Life," candidly relates her fight against breast cancer, her high-profile marriage to Brett and the personal tragedies she endured. This survivor story is one of healing, love and hope, inspiring people across the country to beat the odds.
EXCERPT from "Don't Bet Against Me!" by Deanna Favre with Angela Hunt
After my mammogram—my first—the radiologist came in with my films and said I'd been cleared to go to ultrasound. By using ultrasound, they would be able to see exactly what they were doing as they tried to aspirate the lump. I tried not to be nervous as I lay on the table in the darkened room. They had numbed my breast, so all I felt was a little pressure at my side when the needle pierced the skin and probed the lump. In a moment, it was all over and a technician took the sample away.
I sat up, arranged the folds of my cape around me, and wished I'd brought something to read. The waiting was tedious, but I knew this was nothing compared to what other women endure. At least this cancer center had all the tools in one location.
When Dr. Patrick McWey, my radiologist, returned a few moments later, he said we needed to do a biopsy. I felt my heart pound a double beat as I met his concerned gaze.
"Well, there were some cells, some abnormal cells."
"Will that . . . will the biopsy tell you if I have cancer?"
He gave me a careful smile. "The material has to sit in a solution overnight, but we'll call you tomorrow."
"Will you give me the results over the phone?" I was dreading the long drive back to Milwaukee. He nodded. "I will."
After the biopsy, Deb Theine waited for me to get dressed, and then she led Sue and me into a softly lit conference room. As I sat at a table, Deb took the chair beside me and slid a thick binder in my direction. Sue sat nearby and pulled out a notebook and a pen.
I looked at the title page and swallowed hard. The binder was filled with information about breast cancer. I looked up and caught Deb's eye.
"Do . . . do you think I have cancer?" "I don't know," Deb said, her voice level. "But it's best to be prepared."
As she opened the binder and began to explain various options and treatments, I realized why she was giving me this information now. If tomorrow I learned that I had cancer, I'd be in such shock that I probably wouldn't retain anything but that one dreadful fact. On the other hand, if tomorrow I learned that all I had was a stubborn cyst, at least I'd be better educated.
Education is so important; it is a huge factor in cancer treatment. In the old days, most breast cancer patients were treated with a mastectomy, period. Now there are options, and as I learned that day, you don't automatically have to lose your breasts.
I listened to Deb, nodding and smiling while [my friend] Sue took frantic notes.
"I don't believe I have cancer," I said several times. "After all, I'm healthy. And I'm only thirty-five."
I'm sure that Deb has heard every possible response from women as they wait for their results. She continued her explanations in a calm and professional manner, educating me about breast cancer and telling me what to expect if my biopsy revealed malignant cells. She was completely, blessedly neutral—I didn't get the feeling I had cancer, but neither did she give me false assurance.
Before the day ended, I had talked to a radiation oncologist, a plastic surgeon, and an entire cancer treatment team. Whenever I began to feel a little nervous and ask, "Do you think I might have—," someone always replied, "We certainly hope not."
Brett called my cell phone every hour, wanting to know if I knew anything. When he called around three or four in the afternoon, I told him they were doing the biopsy, but I was sure it'd be fine, no big deal. I could tell he was concerned that I was spending all day at the cancer clinic. He'd been thinking I'd be in and out in an hour or two.
Sue and I drove back to Green Bay and tried to behave as if the day had been completely ordinary. I made dinner, loaded the dishwasher, watched a little television, and went to bed. I kept telling myself that I had just lost my brother a few days ago, so there was no way I would have cancer, too. The odds were simply too great.
Just a cyst. That's surely all I had. Just a stubborn cyst.
The next morning, Brett went to work, Breleigh went to school, and I went to exercise. After I showered and dressed, I didn't want to be nervously pacing around the house and waiting for the doctor's call, so I drove to my friend Toni's house and kept my cell phone within reach.
Every time the phone rang, my heart lurched in my chest. But every time the phone rang that morning, it was Brett on the other end of the line. No matter how many times I told him I didn't expect to hear anything until after noon, he kept calling. Finally, I told him to hang up and go run some laps or something. "Study your playbook, sign some autographs, throw a few footballs. Just don't call me again until after twelve-thirty."
At five minutes past twelve, my phone rang again. I answered, half-expecting to hear Brett's voice again, but Dr. Henry was on the line.
I heard my answer in his first word: "Dear . . ."
"The biopsy shows that you do, in fact, have breast cancer."
A trembling rose from somewhere in the marrow of my bones, chilling my blood and shivering my skin. I felt as if I were standing naked in twenty-degree weather.
My mind filled with images of bald women—thin-armed, pale-faced mothers in hospital beds with their husbands and children gathered around.
A buzzing filled my ears, a sound so loud I could barely hear the man on the other end of the line. I had to force myself to concentrate on the phone against my ear.
"We'll get you an appointment for tomorrow," Dr. Henry was saying. "What time can you get here?"
I said I would be there first thing in the morning. I wanted to get this over with ASAP.
"Fine. Any questions?"
I blinked, unable to find the words to answer him. What could I say? Deb Theine had explained all the facts, but none of them had applied to me, because yesterday I didn't have cancer.
At least I didn't know I did. But hearing Dr. Henry's voice brought the truth home with stunning force. I had a loving husband, two daughters, a wonderful life. And breast cancer.
Unavoidable. True. Deadly.
Brett didn't wait until twelve-thirty. I had barely disconnected the doctor's call when my phone rang again. Without even saying hello, Brett asked, "Did you hear anything?"
When I didn't—couldn't—answer, he exhaled a jagged breath. "Oh, God."
His spontaneous prayer would have to suffice; I was too numb to pray.
"Don't Bet Against Me!: Beating the Odds Against Breast Cancer and in Life" Copyright 2007 by Deanna Favre. All rights reserved.