Inside Linda Davey’s extraordinary lifelong battle against cancer.
Linda Davey was only 27 when she had her first bout with cancer in 1991. She's had five more since. Three times it was breast cancer, with the latest coming in May 2020, just as the first wave of the pandemic hit with crushing force. But Davey pulled through, as she always did. After all, there's a reason people call her "The Miracle Child."
When Davey tells the story today, though, she doesn't talk about miracles. She talks about doctors.
"I should've been dead," she says. "SMH saved my life."
Early Brushes With Breast Cancer
Davey was cancer-free for seven years after that first bout-endometrial cancer. But she never stopped being vigilant, getting her yearly mammograms and performing self-checks. And one morning in 1998, performing a self-examination in the shower, Davey found a lump. She wasted no time. Within 24 hours, she was getting a mammogram. Within 72 hours, she was in surgery to have a cancerous mass removed.
This story would repeat in 2012. Davey, now living in Sarasota, would find a lump in her right breast during a self-examination. A mammogram at SMH would confirm and Davey would undergo surgery yet again. The tumor ended up being benign, which Davey considers a bit of good luck amidst the bad, but it was all prelude to the harder fight yet to come.
In the meantime, Davey was so impressed with the treatment she received at SMH that she left her job as a chef at the Marriott and ultimately joined the SMH team.
Cancer In The Time of COVID
There’s never a good time to get cancer, but during a global pandemic caused by a novel coronavirus has to be among the worst times.
It was May 2020 and the world was going into lockdown. The death toll was rising daily and the virus had made its way to Florida. Davey was in her home in Manatee County, where she lived by herself. She slipped and fell and was unconscious for 15 hours before concerned friends prompted a wellness check from the sheriff. They found her on the floor.
Davey woke up in a local hospital, where the doctor said she needed to see an oncologist. They had run some blood tests and the results were not good. Davey knew the drill and said OK, but then encountered something she definitely did not expect. "They weren't listening to me," she says of the initial doctors she was referred to. "They weren't explaining, and this is my body." So she reached out to Case Management at SMH, asking for help. They put her in touch with Dr. Sarah Kimball, a breast surgical oncologist, who agreed to meet Davey at her office right away and perform a mammogram and run some more tests.
"She was just wonderful," Davey says. But the news wasn't. Her breast cancer had returned for a second time. Stage 0 on the left breast and looking to spread. "It can take over your body," Davey remembers hearing Dr. Kimball say.
And it did.
The Hardest Year
When the cancer was discovered in May, Davey was at the end of her rope and asked Dr. Kimball for a double mastectomy. "I can't go through this anymore," she said. "Remove them. Get rid of them." Pushing 60, the decision made sense in her head, but that didn't make it easy. "But if Angelina Jolie can do it," Davey said, "I can do it too."
Still, it would be four months until Davey was rolled into surgery, due to the pandemic and the enormous strain placed on the health care system in Florida. By then, her condition had deteriorated and she was walking with a cane.
But 48 hours later, the news was good. Dr. Kimball called to tell Davey that the operation had been a complete success and there was no more cancer left. There would be no chemotherapy, no radiation therapy. They ran another mammogram, just to be sure. Davey was cancer-free, once again.
"It was so hard that year," she says. "But it saved my life."
Today, the cane is long gone and Davey walks to raise awareness for breast cancer every year, trying to spread the word. She's still with SMH, where she helps other patients receive the treatment they need.
"Early detection is the key," Davey says. "I'm living proof."
“If I can educate or convince one person, I’ve done my job.”
Breast Cancer Screening with Sarasota Memorial
Sarasota Memorial offers mammography and advanced breast imaging services at eight convenient locations in Sarasota County.
3D mammography is available at all eight locations, and SmartCurve technology is available at SMH – Venice, Sarasota Memorial Health Care Center at North Port and Sarasota Memorial Health Care Center at Heritage Harbour.
To make an appointment for your mammogram, call 941-917-7322
For more information on breast health services at Sarasota Memorial click here.
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH's in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master's degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, KY.