Looking back, even while Dionne Haglund was carrying the most joy-filled news -- she was pregnant with her second child – there was something else growing inside her, something that tempered the ecstasy.
In many ways, the lump that had appeared in her right breast earlier this year was a nightmare revisited. She had fought this fight before: Five years earlier, the Rochester Hills, Michigan, mother had battled breast cancer and beat it.
The thought of a reoccurrence was just not something a mother-to-be could fathom.
Despite fearing the worse, Haglund put on a happy face during her pregnancy. She had her baby this summer – a beautiful boy – and it took her mind off any and everything. But there was a lingering pain.
“I had just had the baby and was having trouble breastfeeding,” she told HLN during a phone interview. “The surgeon told me that I may have trouble breastfeeding so I thought that was the problem.” But the small lump “just kept growing and growing.”
“I went in for my post-partum checkup and they took one look at it,” she said.
It was a 6-centimeter tumor. Cancer.
This time, it had come back with a vengeance – and at the most vulnerable time.
‘Kind of a blow right after a baby’
Haglund, a normally cheery person, was understandably taken aback. How could a person experiencing one of the greatest joys in their life be thrust into such an ordeal?
An even greater indignity was that doctors told her the tumor was not a reoccurrence but a totally new one, more deadly than the first: inflammatory breast cancer and it had metastasized very quickly.
“Kind of a blow right after a baby,” Haglund said. “It kind of sucked the joy out of it. I love my little boy, but it takes you from being excited to thinking, ‘Will I be here for him?’ It’s kind of devastating. It’s overwhelming, quite honestly.”
When Haglund found out about the cancer, she reached for her friend, her rock, Stacey Shy. Haglund owns The Shooting Gallery; Shy and her husband run Venture Photography. Haglund and Shy had grown close after becoming acquainted with each other as fellow photographers around Rochester Hills.
But on that day, that fateful day, Shy didn’t answer the phone. Haglund had tried and tried to get in contact with her, to deliver the news in the calm and nuanced voice it required to pass along such awful news, but Shy kept missing the calls.
So Haglund did what all of us do now in the digital age: She sent a text message.
“It’s cancer,” the message read. In those two short words, a flood of emotions surged between the friends, drawing them even closer together.
“She was diagnosed on Monday, Sept. 10 -- the day before Brody turned 2 months,” Shy told HLN.
“She has her second round of chemo in one week and I know she is concerned about the cumulative effects from each treatment,” Shy said.
Since that time, Shy has been there every step of the way.
Still, Shy wonders what might have been if she or Haglund had reacted earlier.
“She actually told me that she had a lump when she was pregnant and she thought that it was just mastitis, and unfortunately,” Shy said, “I didn’t urge her to go to the doctor at the time and it just grew and grew.”
But so has the support from the community, especially area photographers. Many of them have stepped in to donate their time to shoot Haglund’s wedding assignments, which is her only source of income.
'It's very scary now'
Haglund’s diagnosis came when she was trying to look for new insurance options. She got divorced about a year and a half ago and had COBRA through her former husband’s insurance.
“I’m not the type to ask for help,” Haglund said. “The first time I went through this, I tried to keep it under wraps, for my business’ sake,” she said, referring to five years ago.
“Being such a large provider of my family, it’s very scary now,” she said.
Her voice broke when describing what Shy’s efforts have meant to her. “She just came in and said, ‘You’re not going to do this alone.’”
A few weeks ago, they both shaved their heads.
Shy said she was doing it to support her friend. “It's about to get much more real for her,” she said.
“She’s going to shave my head and then I will let her (older) son shave hers, that’s something that I think she’d like her son to do,” Shy said.
Haglund is going to do 20 weeks of chemotherapy and is facing a mastectomy, possibly a double mastectomy, Shy said. "The doctor has said that he’s very concerned about her. It has spread to her lymph nodes. She will be 39 in November."
Shy said she admired Haglund more each day and that over the past few weeks she had displayed an inner strength that galvanized those close to them. “She's tried to stay incredibly positive, but like anybody else she has her moments and she is also incredibly scared.”
And incredibly fortunate, to have a friend like Shy.