A very private woman who went public with her breast
cancer battle and her blessings to help other
Deanna Favre has lived most of her life happily in the shadow of her husband, Brett, who for years made headlines as a record-setting NFL quarterback. But near the end of his career with the Green Bay Packers, this very private woman took a very public stance on two things: fighting breast cancer and counting her blessings.
Deanna, a breast cancer survivor, found comfort in both.
After she was diagnosed with breast cancer on Oct. 13, 2004, she spent four months undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment. In February 2005, following her last radiation treatment, Deanna was declared cancer-free. The experience was life-changing and has brought Deanna closer to her husband and her Catholic faith.
"I just feel like, with faith, it helps me see the good in everything," she told Sam Lucero of The Compass. "I thank God all of the time that I have faith because I don't understand what people would do without faith."
Since overcoming breast cancer, Deanna has become a spokesperson for breast cancer prevention. She founded the Deanna Favre HOPE Foundation in 2005. Now combined with Brett’s foundation to help children in need, it is known as the Favre4Hope Foundation. Among its various activities, it helps uninsured and underinsured women battling breast cancer.
'Don't Bet Against Me'
Before Brett’s career in Green Bay ended, Deanna published a book, Don't Bet Against Me, an inspirational memoir written with Angela Hunt and published by Tyndale House Publishers.
According to Deanna, stepping into the media spotlight wasn't something she wanted to do after her diagnosis with breast cancer. But she believes it was part of God's plan. She remembers vividly her reaction upon learning of her diagnosis. "My body started to tremble as soon as they said (breast cancer)," she said. "It was like I was standing naked, freezing in 20-degree weather."
At the time, Deanna and Brett were dealing with several family tragedies. Four days before her diagnosis, Deanna's younger brother, Casey, was killed in an ATV accident in Mississippi. Ten months earlier, Brett's father, Irvin, had died of a heart attack.
Public battle with breast cancer
Because of Brett's status as an NFL superstar, Deanna quickly learned that dealing quietly with her personal struggles wouldn't be possible. Initially, she resented the fact that her diagnosis made front-page headlines. But through prayer and her faith in God, Deanna said she came to understand that good could come from her public battle.
She began receiving letters from women around the country who had heard about her diagnosis. They wrote to encourage her and offer their prayers. Later, as Deanna began treatment, other women wrote, telling her that they were motivated to get breast examinations after hearing about her.
"There were women who kept coming up to me and telling me that they found a lump and were diagnosed with breast cancer, and that they went in to get checked because of me," said Deanna. "That was a huge impact. It was like it was meant to be in the public eye for that reason. So many women are being saved. I think God was very evident through all of that."
In the wake of her treatment and recovery, Deanna said her view on life changed. She no longer takes life or relationships for granted, and she cherishes every day with Brett and their two daughters Brittany and Breleigh. "It has made us a better family," she said.
Knowing that early detection of breast cancer can mean the difference between life and death, Deanna has transitioned from an obscure housewife into an outspoken champion of breast cancer prevention.
She believes God has given her the opportunity to help other women, and that is happening through the work of the couple’s foundation. Since its inception, it has raised more than $5 million for charities in Wisconsin, Mississippi and Minnesota.
Her focus on helping underinsured and uninsured women comes out of her own life experience. "I was a single mother for six years," she said. "At that time, I didn't have any insurance, and I thought, 'What would I have done if I were diagnosed with breast cancer at that time?' There are a lot of single moms with breast cancer, women who don't have insurance, or maybe they have medical assistance but not enough to pay for all the costs."
Credits mother for strong faith
Deanna credits her own mother, Ann Byrd, for giving her a strong religious foundation. "She was a huge influence. We were brought up Catholic and we're still strong Catholics," she said, adding that she attended Infant of Prague Parish in Kiln, Miss., as a child.
"I just remember my mom always being involved in the church, reading the Bible every night," said Deanna. "She was just very adamant in teaching us and getting across the faith, all about being Catholic and the importance of going to church on Sunday."
Deanna’s book is a candid look at her life both as a single mom and the wife of a superstar athlete growing up in the public eye. "It talks about all of the adversity we've been through," she said. "It talks about me as a single mom. It talks about Brett's addiction (to Vicodin painkillers), about losing loved ones, and then breast cancer."
Deanna said she had been contacted by other book publishers earlier, but resisted. "I wasn't sure if I wanted to do that, to have my story out there," she said. "I like my privacy, but after thinking and praying about it, I thought I could probably help a lot of women. They needed to be aware of early detection, of how it can be life-saving.” What sealed it for her was the realization that she could turn over all the proceeds from the book to her foundation.
When her book came out, her publisher also released the Pray for a Cure Bible, bound in pink and features the iconic ribbon image. The Bible, a New Living Translation version, includes a foreword by Deanna, followed by a selection of key Bible quotations aimed at breast cancer patients and survivors. Although every reviewer on Amazon.com gave it five stars, it is apparently now out of print.
Deanna said, "My favorite Bible verse is Romans 8:28.” (We know that God makes all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his decree). Being able to see God's hand, using things for his glory has motivated and inspired her to help lead the fight against breast cancer.
* This story was developed with information from an interview by Sam Lucero for The Compass, official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, and used with his permission.
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