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Local woman says breast cancer saved her life

CREATED Nov. 5, 2013 - UPDATED: Nov. 5, 2013

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EAGLE - 57-year-old Vanessa Fell loves to be outside, enjoying life.

"Riding motorcycles, walking, running, scuba diving, jumping out of airplanes," she laughs.

Seven years ago, she started having health issues.

"I started feeling tired and not as much energy for things as I normally would have," Vanessa says.

She powered through the pain for years, and doctors couldn't find anything wrong. Then, a couple years ago, Vanessa was diagnosed with breast cancer. She tried to stay positive, and says she used humor to get through it. "One of my friends at work, when I told her, she kinda got teared up and I told her, 'That's OK honey, I didn't like that one anyway!"

Vanessa had a single mastectomy, but in the course of her breast cancer treatments, doctors found something even more frightening.

Dr. Parameswaran Hari is an oncologist at Froedtert and the Medical College. He explains, "There are many many proteins in the body, that can become this chemical called amyloid, if it gets deposited in a particular organ, that organ undergoes failure."

Vanessa was diagnosed with Amyloidosis. When doctors finally found this rare disease, Vanessa basically had about 3 months to live. She remembers getting the call from her doctor: 'You have to get in here now, and start having treatment, or you're going to die."

Dr. Hari at specializes in Amyloidosis. He says, "It's a very disabling condition, but the good thing is there's treatment for it, which involves killing the cells that make this chemical."

Thanks to treatment, Vanessa is now in remission for both breast cancer and Amyloidosis.

"I'm not ready to go yet," she exclaims.

Vanessa still has a long road to go though. and gets tired very easily. Dr. Hari hopes Vanessa's story inspires others to be vigilant when they know something's wrong with their health.

"We all have a tendency to put things off, especially when it comes to our own health," Dr. Hari scolds.

Vanessa now looks forward to playing with her grandkids again, and is thankful she was proactive about her breast cancer follow-ups. "You have to just do it. Go in there and get your checkup, no big deal.'

Vanessa is scheduled to have a bone marrow transplant in January, which will hopefully keep the Amyloidosis away for good.

Froedtert is one of only a few hospitals in the United States that specializes in Amyloidosis. Dr. Hari says he has about 40 patients, so while it is rare, it is something to be aware of.