In May 2009, I was in Washington DC walking the halls of Capitol Hill with my fellow advocates from Sisters
Journey. We shared our stories with our elected officials hoping to use our collective influence to impact the eradication of breast cancer. But before I became a breast cancer advocate, I was a breast cancer patient. This is my story.
Diagnosis: In 2003, while taking a shower, I felt a lump on my breast. I was only 39 years old. After sharing my concerns with my physician, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was devastating news. Only five percent of breast cancer diagnoses occur in women under 40. The average age for a breast cancer diagnosis is 61. Younger patients have unique issues on top of the cancer diagnosis. In my case that included the loss of my fertility and the overwhelming fear that I would leave our children (Alexander was an eight- year-old third grader and Isabella was a six-year-old kindergartener) without a mommy and my husband (35 years old) that I adored, without a wife. Robert and I were dealing with serious issues few people in our age group are forced to cope with. Treatment: A surgical biopsy confirmed that I had stage IIB invasive ductal carcinoma and Ductal Carcinoma In Situ. The cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I was informed that I had a rare sub-type called HER2 positive, which occurred in only 25-30% of cases. Genetic testing also revealed an abnormality on the BRCA 2 gene. Through all this bad news came some good news. I could choose to be in a clinical trial for a drug call Herceptin. Following my biopsy, I had a lumpectomy, port implantation, eight cycles of chemotherapy, 33 treatments of radiation, 52 weeks of Herceptin, Zoladex treatments (ovarian ablation), corrective breast surgery, five years of Tamoxifen (hormonal therapy), and I am now on extended adjuvant treatment (Arimidex). Coping: I chose to be very private during my diagnosis. I was not hiding nor was I in denial. I began sharing my story only when I felt I had processed my own experience and when I was emotionally ready. My husband was (and continues to be) an incredible source of love and support. My extended family, friends, and a great medical team combined to help me through a very difficult time. My coping strategy was to feel informed. Cancer treatments are constantly evolving and as survivors, it’s important that we maintain current knowledge. I combined my professional background in educational counseling and advertising/public relations with my personal breast cancer experience to begin my advocacy work. I volunteer my time with local and national organizations. Locally, I co-founded a breast cancer mentoring program and serve on the Breast Health Action Council (Southeastern CT Public Health Department). I am active with the Komen Connecticut affiliate serving as a grant reviewer for three years and participating in various educational activities. Nationally, I have served as a consumer reviewer on the United States Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Breast Cancer Program. In 2008, I attended the San Antonio Inter- national Breast Cancer Symposium as a patient advocate scholarship recipient, funded through the Alamo Breast Cancer Foundation. I encourage survivors to learn more about these wonderful opportunities. What You Can Do: We have much to be hopeful for; however, we cannot become desensitized or complacent about breast cancer. Schedule your clinical breast exam, a mammogram, and practice breast self examination. Check your breasts while showering or putting on lotion. If you feel a lump, don’t panic, remember the majority of lumps are not cancer, but also, do not ignore a lump. Get your breast cancer information only from accurate, updated sources including www.komen.org and of course, Sisters Journey.
“I WISH YOU WELL!”