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Mom of 4 who beat breast cancer is helping other women survive

RICHMOND, Va. -- Looking at pictures of Donna Harmer, there's a smile on her face in every shot. Even during her darkest days, she's still smiling.

"You're as good as you make yourself feel. That's what I do every day,” Donna Harmer said.

Donna Harmer

Donna Harmer

It's that dose of positive thinking that helped the mother of four get through a tough 2016, when she was diagnosed with Stage 3A breast cancer.

"Very hard to take in at first. I did everything right. I'm not sick. I'm healthy,” Harmer said.

With her family by her side, Harmer would go through five months of chemotherapy.

She went from the "big chop" to completely shaving off all of her hair.

Harmer also underwent a mastectomy and radiation.

She would ultimately beat cancer.

Donna now spends a lot of her time -- moving.

She's part of a national trial looking at the link between weight loss and cancer recurrence.

"This is the first big trial to see if trying to help women lose weight is going to improve their odds of their breast cancer coming back," Dr. Mary Helen Hackney said.

Dr. Hackney, with VCU Massey Cancer Center, is leading the "Breast Cancer Weight Loss Study" or " B WEL" trial.

The trial is open and actively enrolling.

It will involve 3,100 patients from the U.S and information will be collected for 10 years.

Participants will be divided into two groups.

One group will receive education and phone calls. The second group will receive weekly phone calls and “more intervention."

Participants in the trial must be:

Within one year of diagnosis

Mostly have stage 2 and stage 3 breast cancer

Body Mass Index of 27 or higher

"We tend to always think obesity and we’re worried about diabetes. We’ve worried about heart disease. We need to put cancer on that list too and recognize weight control is important for all of us,” Dr. Hackney said.

Harmer talks weekly with a nurse, getting nutrition and fitness tips to help herself and others.

"More importantly it was about helping people in the future that might be diagnosed with breast cancer. Can we even prevent it before we get to that stage?" she said.

In five weeks, Harmer has already lost 11 pounds.

She credited better eating habits, exercise, and more motivation for her weight loss.

The “B WEL” trial is also available at 5 other hospitals and practices across the state affiliated with VCU Massey Cancer Center.

To learn more, call 1-800-925-8821.

Affiliate Information:

Hematology-Oncology Associates of Fredericksburg, Inc.
Linda Hazelgren, RN
540-371-0079

Lynchburg Hematology Oncology Clinic, Inc.
Donna Washburn, RN
434-200-1495

Shenandoah Oncology, PC
Claudia Phillips, RN
540-662-1108

VCU Community Memorial Healthcenter
Teresa Collins, RN
434-774-2501

Virginia Cancer Institute
Susan Moore, RN
804-287-3000