Although Brenda Winfree tested negative for the breast cancer gene, she was still considered "high-risk" because her mother and her grandmother died due to breast cancer and her sister is a survivor.
“My mom passed in Sept. 2009. Around three weeks after she died I had a dream about her, she was only like 35 in my dream, it's actually one of my favorite images of her, she told me to get myself checked immediately,” Winfree said of her initial reasoning for getting checked.
Aside from that, Winfree was experiencing unexplained symptoms.
"Everything on me was visibly swollen, I knew something was wrong,” she told The Log.
But after multiple tests and more than a year went by doctors were still blaming stress and fatigue. Winfree requested to be referred to another doctor.
She was ultimately diagnosed with stage three lobular breast cancer in Dec. 2010 at only 47 years old. Her doctor said if she had gone another six months without the proper diagnosis it would likely have been fatal.
“They removed 23 lymph nodes, 17 of which tested positive," said Winfree of the diagnosis.
Winfree said the most important thing that a woman can do is listen to her own body like she did.
That was just the beginning of her personal battle with breast cancer. She had to deal with the effects of radiation and chemotherapy — and on top of that, an accidental chemotherapy overdose, and too many personal, emotional and financial dilemmas to count.
Even those closest to Winfree were unaware that she had been diagnosed with cancer for quite some time. She essentially became a hermit until she thought she was ready to handle everyone else’s reaction to her news, including the closest members of her family.
During the struggle with cancer she lost many things — including her husband, her livelihood and her house — but she still had her “everything,” which is what she calls her children and grandchildren.
She had no choice but to give her dance studio, Tabu Vertical Fitness, to her daughter. Being physically unable to work, she lost her medical insurance and was soon blind-sighted by other devastating financial pitfalls, including the impending foreclosure of her home.
Through it all, she kept her giving, kindred spirit and thousand-watt smile she's known for.
“I left my phone number with my doctor’s office in case any patients needed anything, even just someone to talk to. In doing that, helping others, I finally allowed myself to accept help from others too,” said Winfree.
In chatting with this overwhelmingly positive woman who has curly, auburn-hair and whose electric-blue eyes give Destin's waters a serious run for their money, it's easy to forget she's sick.
Winfree was given a two-year prognosis and has another surgery scheduled in the near-future, sans insurance.
To ease the cost of Winfree's stage three lobular breast cancer, fundraisers are being held throughout the month in her name. Saturday, Oct. 13 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Hooter's parking lot; the Tabu girls are holding a carwash in her honor.
Please visit facebook.com/teambrendawinfree or giveforward.com/teambrenda for more information about fundraisers and ways you can help.