Tissue donor changes life for breast cancer survivor

Family of four, including a toddler and a newborn

“I can look in the mirror every day and not be reminded of the hell I went through.”

Curpri Sanders experienced the happiest time in her life and the saddest in the same month.

As she waited excitedly to say hello to her first baby, she had to say goodbye to her mom, who was dying of breast cancer. It was a stressful jumble of emotions she’d likely endure just once in her life — you would think.

A pregnant woman and a man and their toddler, all wearing white and denimFour years later, in 2022, Curpri and her husband, Edward, were thrilled to learn she was pregnant again.

“Suddenly, I had another chance at doing this,” said Curpri, 34, donor operations manager at Gift of Life Michigan. “I would get to do all the fun pregnancy things I was robbed of last time, because I was too sad.”

Four months pregnant, Curpri felt a lump in her right breast. She froze. It couldn’t be, could it?

After an ultrasound, then a mammogram and a biopsy, Curpri received numbing news. She had breast cancer.

Her mind raced.

“Am I going to be able to have this baby? Am I going to die? My mother died from cancer. I have a 4-year-old at home. How can I prepare him for this?

“My ob-gyn looked at me and said, ‘Curpri, you’re going to be fine and your baby will be fine.’ And I believed her.”

Then she said, ‘But this pregnancy is no longer normal.’”

Curpri remembers taking a deep breath.

A bald woman in a hospital bed with a newborn baby“I said, ‘Pull your bootstraps up, girl, and do what you’ve got to do.’” She had no idea a stranger’s gift of donated tissue would be a crucial part of the plan.

The next few weeks were a blur of medical appointments. Curpri started chemotherapy, on a careful plan that involved inducing her baby’s delivery five weeks early.

“I kept telling myself there is joy in all of this,” she said. “There’s a baby coming.”

Baby boy Easton was born a healthy 5 pounds, 4 ounces.

“We were defying the odds, him and I,” Curpri said.

The happy new mom had one week off, “then I was back in that chemo chair.”

Next up: Curpri’s aggressive treatment included a double mastectomy.

She wanted breast reconstruction, but extra skin would be needed to hold the breast implants in place, forming a sort of sling, securely attached to her chest wall.

Sometimes surgeons can use tissue from a woman’s abdomen, but Curpri didn’t have that option, as she had just given birth to Easton.

After her breast tissue was removed, implants were placed and donated tissue went under her skin to hold the implants, allowing the space and structure necessary for her breasts to return to their normal shape and appearance.

“My breasts look like my breasts,” she said. At age 34, she can’t imagine not having them. Her donor changed her life.

Stick figure person and descriptions of what can be donated.Donated skin is often used for burn victims or patients with traumatic injuries. But it’s also crucial for breast reconstruction like Curpri’s, or to prevent amputation by keeping sores from turning into gangrene, and it has many other uses.

“Most people just think of organ donation — hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys,” Curpri said. “Those are lifesaving. But there are so many things donated tissue can do.”  One person’s donation can meet multiple critical medical needs.

“I wouldn’t have died without this donated tissue,” Curpri said. “But I’m living a better life. Because of someone’s gift, I can look in the mirror every day and not be reminded of the hell I went through.”

Baby Easton is 10 months old, “trying to crawl and talk and walk and run,” she said happily. Big brother Edward, 5, just started kindergarten.

“Life is chaos,” Curpri said, laughing. “But I love this chaos. I cherish every moment.”

“How far we’ve come,” she said. “It was absolutely tough. But my family prevailed.”

Her work at Gift of Life, always meaningful, is more personal now.

“I would hear all these beautiful, emotional stories about organ and tissue donation,” Curpri said. “Never did I think I’d have one of those stories. Thank God for people who donate.”

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