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Breast Cancer Survivor Deanna Favre Steps into the Limelight

by Laura Shipp

Inspiration image

(photo courtesy of Kaptions by Kristi)

Deanna Favre, a shy, small-town girl from Kiln, Mississippi, has always been what she calls “a behind-the-scenes sort of person.” Though married to famed Green Bay Packers quarterback (and her high school sweetheart) Brett Favre, Deanna shied away from the limelight. However, in December 2003 during a Monday night football game, the limelight found her. As a grieving Brett led his team to an emotionally charged victory immediately following the unexpected fatal heart attack of his father, television cameras focused in on his concerned wife, introducing Deanna to a national audience she did not ask for. The next year, another family tragedy, followed by her own breast cancer diagnosis, led Deanna to become grateful for her celebrity status because she could use it to help other women.

Because Deanna’s cancer diagnosis came just a few days after her younger brother, Casey, was killed in an ATV accident, she admits during an interview with Coping® magazine that it took a while for the reality of it to sink in. She compares the shock she experienced when her doctor told her she had cancer to “standing naked in 20 degree weather.” Deanna says, “Looking back, I really think I was sort of numb because I was going through the loss of my brother. It didn’t catch up with me until after the treatment and everything was over. That’s when it really hit me and I realized what I had been through.”

Since her cancer was detected early, Deanna remained confident that she would be able to beat it. After researching her options and getting a second opinion, Deanna decided on a breast-conserving lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. “My doctors were very informative and told me that some women opt for the mastectomy because they don’t want to take the chance that the cancer will come back,” she says. “But for me, since I was so young [35] and my doctors felt confident they could treat it this way, I chose the option that allowed me to keep my breasts.”

Though married to Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Deanna shied away from the limelight.

Though the chemo often left her nauseated and the radiation was exhausting, Deanna’s faith and the support of her family sustained her. “I have always felt like everything happens for a reason, so I knew that eventually there would be good coming from it,” she says. “I try to use that approach in every situation, and cancer was one of them.”

For Deanna, the “good” that came out of her cancer experience was that once dreaded limelight, which gave her a public platform to encourage other women facing the same challenge. “There were a lot of women writing to me, letting me know how grateful they were that my story came out,” she says. “Because of my story, they went in for a breast check and cancer was detected. The impact of that on me was amazing because I could see the good in my story immediately.”

As both a former single mother with limited financial means and a breast cancer survivor, Deanna knows how hard it is to pay for medical expenses. To help ease the financial burden of a breast cancer diagnosis, she created the Deanna Favre HOPE Foundation, which pays medical bills for uninsured or underinsured women battling breast cancer. Now cancer free, Deanna uses her unintentional celebrity status to shine the spotlight on breast cancer awareness.

Though she confesses she would never have chosen to face breast cancer, Deanna is not bitter about her diagnosis. “I feel blessed to have gone through it and made it to the other side,” she says. “I now realize how precious life is and how precious my children, my husband, and my family are.”

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For more on the Deanna Favre HOPE Foundation, visit Deanna’s memoir, Don’t Bet Against Me!, is available at most major booksellers.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2008.