Grateful Breast Cancer Survivor Spends Her Retirement Giving Back - PIH Health

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Published on October 12, 2017

Grateful Breast Cancer Survivor Spends Her Retirement Giving Back

Bonnie Cairns - volunteer

Bonnie Cairns - volunteerWhen Bonnie Cairns retired from her job in November 2011, she envisioned spending more time with the people, hobbies and things she loved most. Being diagnosed with breast cancer exactly five months later wasn’t part of the plan.

“This was definitely not how I expected my retirement to start off,” said Bonnie, a 68-year-old Whittier resident. “I have no family history of cancer, so it was quite a shock.”

The cancer was first detected on Bonnie’s routine mammogram—a screening she had diligently done every year since turning 40, at the PIH Health Breast Center. Radiologist, Maureen Jensen MD, spotted something suspicious in one breast and called Bonnie back for additional imaging and evaluation. The scan elicited some concern, so an ultrasound was conducted followed by a biopsy. Bonnie was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. A follow-up MRI detected a second spot in the same breast, which prompted Bonnie to have both breasts removed (a bilateral mastectomy), followed by reconstructive surgery later in 2012.

“I realized there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t get cancer again, but it couldn’t come back to breasts that weren’t there," Bonnie said.

Her bilateral mastectomy surgery was performed in July 2012 by PIH Health general surgeon Kennith Thompson MD. The actual surgery went well, but Bonnie’s lymph nodes showed the presence of cancer in the sentinel node. She subsequently underwent a genetic test that evaluates 21 genes in a tumor and scores them to create a recurrence score. In Bonnie’s case, her test showed a high risk of the cancer returning, which meant she would need chemotherapy in an effort to minimize the risk of the cancer coming back.

Therefore, after recovering from surgery, Bonnie worked with PIH Health oncologist Dustin Stevenson DO, on a fairly aggressive chemotherapy treatment, which continued for five months. In 2013, she started an oral hormone-blocking medication, and continued making lifestyle changes to optimize her health—including losing weight to reduce her cancer risk. A nutritionist recommended PIH Health’s extensive offering of free Community Education classes, including a diabetes prevention class called “Live Your Best Life.”

“I wasn’t diabetic or even pre-diabetic, but the information I learned about exercise, nutrition and portion control helped me lose nearly 50 pounds,” she said. “Since then, I’ve attended many PIH Health classes and even repeated some as a refresher.” Today, Bonnie is fully enjoying retirement—she spends time with her favorite people and pursues her hobbies. But she also shares her story and offers encouragement to others. Bonnie volunteers once a week in the PIH Health Infusion Center, where she once received her own chemotherapy treatments. She also mentors women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer, answering their questions, sharing her experiences and offering hope and support.

“It’s my way of giving back and it’s been very rewarding for me,” Bonnie said. “I deliver pillows and blankets to help patients feel more comfortable, and I’m able to tell breast cancer patients that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that they can get through it. I’m very grateful that PIH Health is my health and wellness partner in more ways than one.”

To schedule a mammogram call 562.906.5692, or for a list of upcoming community classes, visit

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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