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Living in the now: Cancer survivor finds her purpose in life

  • Story Highlights
  • Dawn Spencer has been battling a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer
  • The seven-year struggle has helped her find her purpose in life, she says
  • Spencer's purpose is to provide better breast prosthesis options to women in need
  • It's not about how much time you have, it's about what you do with it, says Spencer
By Dawn Spencer
Special to CNN
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(CNN) -- Who knew that fighting breast cancer for the third time in seven years would reveal my purpose in life.

Dawn Spencer

Triple negative breast cancer survivor hopes her story will inspire other people to "live in the now."

I have never felt better about my life than now. My mantra each morning when I wake up, during the day between tasks, and at night before I go to bed is, "All is well! Everything in this situation is working for my highest good and from this situation only good will come. All is well!"

After a right breast mastectomy with large margins excised due to cancer spread within the dermas, muscle from the back was removed to place on the chest wall and a skin graft from my right thigh. I was left with huge scaring both outside and within.

The most regrettable loss was never being able to have reconstructive surgery to replace what I thought defined me as an attractive and sexy woman. After healing remarkably fast and well, I had to get back what I'd lost in order to move on and feel good about myself once again.

First of all, I had to start looking at myself in the mirror with no clothes for longer than a second. I massaged my chest with special creams and oils everyday which forced me to look at the area and monitor its healing. After the healing was complete, I had to shop for a breast prosthetic. Wow, that was when my purpose in life was revealed! Video Spencer shares her experiences with cancer »

I was given a prescription for a custom prosthesis and sent to an orthotics and prosthetics center where I was caught off guard by a prosthetic professional who sized me up when I walked in the door.

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"You're not going to like what I have to show you," she said.

Confused and somewhat disappointed I asked, "What do you mean?"

Well, she defined me by my professional attire and assumed the off-the-shelf prosthesis would not meet my expectations. She was right.

After showing me what was available she suggested I look at a couple of custom breast prosthetic products she recommended. I thanked her for her honesty and help and went to investigate.

After doing my homework on several companies, I chose one that actually used a plaster mold to fit me. I was disappointed to say the least and am currently wearing an off the shelf prosthesis that fits in a special bra or can be worn with a special sock or sleeve in a regular bra. Needless to say, the custom prosthesis was not as "custom" as I thought it would be. I said to myself there has to be a better product and at least more options available for women.

My purpose in life is to provide women in need options for a better product and/or create and develop a product that meets the specifications of each and every woman no matter their size, amount of area, or specific shade or hue.

That is why I created a breast prosthesis called AugMe that focuses on specific color matching and contours from skin to prosthesis. I work for a large media corporation so my insurance paid for the custom prosthesis that cost $4,000.

However, for those women who don't have private insurance, Medicare does not cover custom breast prosthesis. Until Medicare changes their policy to cover custom breast prosthesis, there will be little demand for AugMe or any other custom product.

I have now joined forces with Dr. Susan Cassidy, the CEO of another custom prosthetic company, CountourMed, to hopefully change Medicare's policy. We are currently awaiting their decision after presenting letters from breast cancer professionals and organizations as well as seeking congressional attention.

I am a triple negative breast cancer survivor. I hope that through my story, others will be inspired to "live in the now" and love every moment of it.

I recently found out about Dr. Lisa Newman's annual trips to Ghana where she performs surgery on women with triple negative breast cancer. I asked her if she could use breast prosthesis for her patients. She was overwhelmed and said that she currently takes only a few and how helpful and meaningful that would be for her patients in Ghana. Video Doctor travels to Ghana for cancer clues »

Well I'm sure you can assume that I am now on another journey to provide breast prostheses for those women in Ghana as well as women here in the United States.

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I am often asked do I wonder why "I've" been diagnosed with breast cancer and the answer is so obvious to me. Of course I know why. If it weren't for my diagnosis of breast cancer, I would be feeling sorry for others and fearful of what may happen to me. How selfish and non productive.

Now I waste no time feeling sorry for myself or others and I make sure every moment is spent making a positive impact on all those I encounter. It's not about how much time you have, it's about what you're doing with that time. I choose to spend it making people with breast cancer, happy.

If you have had a mastectomy due to breast cancer and reconstruction is not an option, tell me your story and hopefully I can help you. Go to www.augmefoundation.com. You can also go to the site to make a donation to provide breast prostheses for women in Ghana.

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