Picture (left to right): Dani Hughes with her younger sister
Danielle (Dani) Hughes never worried much about health problems. The 52-year old has lived a healthy life full of hiking, yoga and travel. She is a busy business owner, wife and mom. With no known history of cancer in her family, she was especially stunned when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Getting diagnosed with breast cancer
“I had never really thought about cancer and was not too concerned about it because I was having regular screenings and wellness exams,” said Dani, who lives in Lake Hill, New York.
Then unexpectedly, Dani’s younger sister died from cancer in February 2021.
Grieving the loss of her sister, Dani decided to get her health checked. She scheduled a routine exam with her gynecologist, screening colonoscopy and screening mammogram.
Screening mammograms can detect breast cancer before it causes symptoms. Women who are at average risk of developing breast cancer should start annual screening mammograms at age 40. Learn more about breast imaging.
Dani’s mammogram was abnormal.
Eugene Dougherty, Physician Assistant, Nuvance Health Medical Practice Primary Care Woodstock
Dr. Curcio is a fellowship-trained breast surgeon who practices at Northern Dutchess Hospital and Nuvance Health Medical Practice Kingston Breast Surgery.
Dr. Curcio ordered a breast biopsy on the area of abnormality, and then ordered a breast MRI.
“The MRI findings were even more concerning than the area that had been biopsied,” said Dr. Curcio. “The results from additional biopsies revealed that Dani had high-grade ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). This is the earliest possible form of breast cancer that can be diagnosed.”
Dr. Lisa D. Curcio, Breast Surgery, Northern Dutchess Hospital
“Hearing I had breast cancer was devastating. It hit me like a freight train, especially because it was only about a month after I had lost my sister,” said Dani. “Even though I was in shock, I felt well-informed to make decisions about immediate next steps because Dr. Curcio was articulate about my diagnosis and options for treatment. She gave me access to detailed information and was available if I had questions. I felt well-cared for, which was a comfort to me and my family.”
Having breast cancer surgery
Based on the extent of the disease, evidence-based guidelines and Dani’s personal preferences, Dr. Curcio and Dani decided she would have bilateral skin and nipple-sparing mastectomies with immediate implant-based breast reconstruction.
Mastectomy involves removing the entire breast. Nipple-sparing mastectomy is a type of oncoplastic surgery.
“While removing the cancer is the most important goal of breast cancer surgery, how the breast looks after surgery is also important,” said Dr. Curcio. “Oncoplastic surgery combines traditional breast cancer surgery with plastic surgery to achieve optimal cosmetic outcomes.”
“I decided to have a double mastectomy because I did not want to worry about potentially developing another breast cancer. I did not want to go through it again,” said Dani.
Dani continued, “A powerful determinant other than the comfort and knowledge Dr. Curcio provided was that she had gone through it, too. She had to make similar decisions when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I felt confident in her diagnosis and treatment recommendation knowing that she had also traveled the path.”
Dr. Curcio was recently married, a new mom and had just completed a fellowship in surgical oncology when she was diagnosed with DCIS. Learn more about Dr. Curcio’s breast cancer journey.
Dani had surgery at Northern Dutchess Hospital.
“I was nervous going into surgery, but also cautiously optimistic,” said Dani. “It really helped that the nurses were amazing.”
Dani is also grateful that Terence — her husband of 20 years who she calls the “love of her life” — was able to stay by her side until she went into surgery.
Recovering from breast cancer surgery
“I was calm and cognizant when I woke up after surgery,” said Dani. “I felt uncomfortable but it was not unexpected because I was well-informed about how I may feel post-surgery.”
Dani stayed in the hospital for one night before continuing her recovery at home.
“My nursing staff at home — Terence and my beautiful kids — were excellent,” said Dani with a smile. “I believe I experienced the best possible scenario for recovery. Everything healed well and on time, the pain was manageable and I did not experience lymphedema.”
Dani did not need additional treatment because there was no evidence that the breast cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
She had outpatient physical therapy to move, stretch and learn how to strengthen her arms and shoulders.
Dani does not consider herself back to normal but in a good way; she feels like she is in better shape than before breast cancer — mentally and physically.
“Dani is not only a breast cancer survivor, but she is also a thriver,” said Dr. Curcio.
“Having breast cancer changed me. I am more mindful of having health checks, which is now a priority for me and my family,” said Dani. “Nobody wants to be in a serious medical situation; but in life, sometimes you are. Dr. Curcio and Northern Dutchess Hospital took great care of me and I am eternally grateful.”
The outcome of treatment for breast cancer varies from person to person. No individual results should be seen as typical.