Unique Spirits & Sweets Speaker Story
Unique Spirits and Sweets is an event hosted by Memorial Foundation to support program, service and technology needs for the Harold & Dixie LePere Breast Health Center of Excellence in Shiloh. Since the event’s inception in 2015, this event has raised nearly $160,000 (the event wasn’t held in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID). Dr. James Clanahan, Breast Health Center medical director and a surgeon with Lincoln Surgical Associates, said the impact of this event and the Center is widely recognized in the community.
“The importance of the Breast Health Center to the community is easily seen when considering that there were more than 19,000 patient encounters at the Center in 2022,” Dr. Clanahan said. “Breast cancer is a huge health problem that demands our attention and supporting our efforts by attending this event is a great way for anyone and everyone to become involved while also enjoying a very nice evening.”
The guest speaker at this year’s event, which was held on March 23, was 46-year-old Alana Warhoover, breast cancer survivor, who was diagnosed with aggressive triple negative breast cancer on November 19, 2016. Warhoover went in for her first mammogram at age 40 as doctors suggest, and after completing a diagnostic mammogram the next day, she was told she needed a biopsy.
“When the radiologist came in, he had a look on his face, and I knew right then that something was wrong,” she said. “I was then scheduled with Dr. Clanahan for November 16, 2016, which was supposed to be a consultation, but he was able to do the ultrasound-guided biopsy right then. He called me on November 19, 2016, and told me it was cancer – the words that changed me forever. After meeting with him to go over options and a plan, I began my fight.”
Warhoover and Dr. Clanahan went forward with chemotherapy and a double mastectomy with implants. Chemotherapy began in early December 2016 with eight high-dose treatments, one every two weeks.
“They wanted to do chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor prior to surgery,” she said. “I’m a nurse at the Rehabilitation Institute of Southern Illinois in Shiloh, and I continued to work throughout chemotherapy because I needed to support my family. I endured all the labs, side effects and mental anguish during chemo, and it finally ended in March 2017.”
She said Dr. Clanahan gave her body a month to rest before the double mastectomy in April 2017. With no sign of cancer in her lymph nodes, she was cleared for surgery.
“Because I didn’t have lymph node involvement, I didn’t need radiation after surgery,” Warhoover said. “I had many follow-up appointments with all doctors involved in my case, and down the road I had two more surgeries with plastic surgeons for best results.”
Dr. Clanahan said Warhoover’s case is rare, and her story is a testament to getting your mammogram at age 40 as suggested.
“Warhoover was found to have breast cancer on her first mammogram, which was done at age 40,” he said. “This is very unusual to find cancer on the first mammogram. She’s now disease-free for over six years. Unique Spirits and Sweets hasn’t had a speaker who was so far out from her diagnosis and treatment.
“She can give us additional perspective on how a breast cancer survivor is living her daily life years later. Her story shows us all the importance of following breast cancer screening guidelines and recommendations for getting mammograms. This disease can affect anyone at any time at any age.”
Listening to Warhoover’s unique perspective about her journey was very impactful.
“Having worked so closely with breast cancer patients for a long time, I continue to be amazed and impressed by the unmatched courage and determination to power through this diagnosis while at the same time handling life’s daily challenges,” he said. “With Warhoover being a nurse, it was interesting to hear how working in the medical field impacted her journey. I am inspired every day by these women who teach me every day what the definition of perspective is.”
Warhoover spoke from the heart about her story, including what she learned and her advice for all attendees. The main thing she wanted people to remember is don’t wait.
“I got my mammogram when I was supposed to, but I hear people around me say how they ‘need to schedule theirs’ or ‘haven’t been in years,’” she said. “They’re not making it a priority. It can literally save your life like it did mine. If you’re going through treatment or are about to, don’t give up, and trust the process.”
She said she’s thankful for everyone who supported her throughout her journey and still struggles with uneasiness about the future.
“When I found out about my cancer, I was first in shock, then tearful, then ready to fight,” she said. “Once I knew I was in remission, I was hopeful and relieved, but I still have anxiety about the future of the disease. With every lab draw or scan, I fear it coming back. I am now and have been in remission, and I am grateful to God, to the doctors, nurses, all the staff, my family, friends, and coworkers. I didn’t do it alone.”
*This story went to press prior to the event date of March 23, 2023; therefore, we cannot report the number of funds raised in support of the Harold & Dixie LePere Breast Health Center of Excellence.