Online: Alisa Strong arrived at the studio for her Life’s Victories photo shoot with a pink feather boa and the confidence that comes with beating cancer-three times. She was first diagnosed in 2005 after feeling a lump in her left breast. Eight years later, she was diagnosed again and then a third time in 2016.
Strong is a three-time triple-negative breast cancer survivor. She also has the BRCA 1 genetic mutation that causes an 87% increased risk of breast cancer and 44% increased risk of ovarian cancer.
There are many factors that go into successfully conquering an opponent like cancer. One of them is having a good support system. Strong feels blessed to have had a supportive and compassionate team of oncologists, surgeons, pharmacists and nurses, at Holy Cross Hospital where she was treated. Her family and friends divided responsibilities among themselves. Strong also joined a breast cancer support group called Mutant Strong.
Strong says, “I had a very strong support system, but it was difficult not to be the caregiver. I had to remind myself I need to let others help.”
It’s evident that she is in possession of an inner strength and glowing positivity that undoubtedly provided some extra armor when facing such a long battle.
“The chemotherapy and its side effects were the most challenging aspects of my treatment, but I just kept reminding myself I was going to beat this.”
Strong felt most victorious and hopeful when she had recovered from surgery or completed chemotherapy and radiation treatments. There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and she could now help other women in the same situation.
Strong is now sharing the best advice that she received when she was going through the process, “Have patience with yourself. Whether you have to get through one hour or one day, you will get through it.”
Ana Luisa Uria
I discovered I had breast cancer by chance. I felt a lump. Working at Cleveland Clinic Florida, I went to see my doctor, who immediately told me to have a mammogram and ultrasound. The mammogram came back clear, but the ultrasound showed a mass. The interesting thing was that the lump I felt was nothing. The mass was in the other breast. I feel very fortunate that it all came out that way. I could have waited for my regularly scheduled mammogram, but by then who knows how much more advanced it may have been. I am very fortunate indeed.
Sharing the News
My friends and family were with me all the way. My husband was very supportive as were my children and friends. Immediately, the prayers started pouring in, and that’s what helped me the most, aside from my family’s support. So many people prayed for me from different parts of the world. I could feel the strength coming from the prayers.
I had Stage 1 breast cancer and the recommended protocol for my cancer type and stage was surgery and radiation. However, as part of the protocol, a genetic test was also recommended. Based on the results, my doctors recommended chemotherapy as well. I trusted my team of doctors who were also a part of my incredible recovery. I followed their recommendations faithfully. The care that I received at Cleveland Clinic Florida was second to none. I really could have gone anywhere to get my care. My insurance allows me that comfort, but I never doubted getting treated there.
How I Got Through
I can’t complain about my experience. I will not say that it was easy. I went through all my treatments as something I just had to do. Although I was allowed plenty of time off to take care of myself, I was fortunate enough to not feel very sick, and I continued working all along. I think working also kept me from thinking too much about my illness and helped me get through a lot easier.
What I Learned
My advice to someone who is diagnosed with breast cancer is to stay positive and active, because that certainly helped me a lot. After an experience like having breast cancer, I think it’s very common to see that little things don’t matter much. Also, you want to make the best of everything. At least I do.
The Diagnosis I was diagnosed in 2008 when I was 49 years old during a routine mammogram. I remember calling the doctor’s office at least twice a day following my biopsy and getting the same response that the test results hadn’t come back yet. On my last call prior to my doctor’s appointment, I was told that the surgeon would review the results with me at my appointment. Panic set in at that moment, and I asked my girlfriend to accompany me to the doctor. I prepared myself for the bad news. And sure enough, my instincts were correct and it was cancer.
Sharing the News I did share my story right away with family, friends, and co-workers as I felt it was my responsibility to reinforce the importance of early detection. I was a little nervous that maybe I wouldn’t be “on my game” while going through tests and treatment, and wanted everyone to know why. My children were most concerned but a little relieved to know that with the proper treatment and continuing my healthy lifestyle, my chances of not having a recurrence was 99%.
Choosing Treatment When I was diagnosed, my doctor said I would definitely need a lumpectomy. Radiation therapy was an option, but he recommended I move forward with it. I remember asking him, if I was your wife what would you tell me to do. He said have radiation, and so I followed his advice. It was also a relief knowing I could continue to work during my radiation therapy. My care at the Christine E. Lynn Health and Wellness Center on the campus of the Boca Regional Hospital was exceptional. Right from the diagnosis until post treatment, I had a team of experienced and world-renowned doctors and staff guiding me throughout the entire unpredictable process.
How I Got Through I was blessed to have my children, good friends and co-workers around me to lean on. I work full-time as a real estate agent and taking time off was not an option. This turned out to be a good thing. I would wake up early every morning for my 6 a.m. workout, go for my radiation therapy, and then head to the office. I felt great until the last two weeks of the treatment when fatigue set in. So I listened to my body, cut back on my workouts and added a little more nap time into my daily routine. Before you knew it, I was back in action hitting the gym for early morning workouts and traveling to New York City to celebrate with my family.
What I Learned Because I was so verbal about my diagnosis, many former cancer patients and professionals reached out to me with their kind words and recommendations. I felt like I was part of a sisterhood, and still do to this day. For this reason, I have been very involved with the American Cancer Society, particularly our annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.
I think the most important lesson I learned from the entire experience is that it is so important to be proactive when it comes to your healthcare. Go for annual mammograms, gynecological tests, and annual dermatological skin checks (especially here in Florida or if you’re like me and prone to pre skin cancers). Look at health challenges as your “bumps in the road.” My wonderful dad, who passed from colon cancer, always said, “Dawnie, life is peaks and valleys, so ride the bumps on your way to the top.” I choose to live my life like my daddy did.
Deirdre Smith was always health conscious. She walked six miles every day and watched what she ate. Smith had her yearly mammograms as advised, despite having no family history of breast cancer. She felt healthy and had no symptoms [of breast cancer]. It was a shock to her when she was diagnosed just before Thanksgiving in 2015, after being sent for further testing after an abnormal mammogram.
After the diagnosis, Smith decided she had no time to feel sorry for herself. Her daughter was 15 years old at the time. She wanted to live. “I got into fight mode,” she said.
Fight she did, along with her treatment team at Cleveland Clinic Florida. It was there at Cleveland Clinic Florida that radiologist Maria Artze, MD located the cancer when other doctors elsewhere had diagnosed her with benign calcifications. The tumors were on the back wall of her breast tissue.
“I’m so glad I decided to get a second opinion. I’m also very thankful to Dr. Artze. She saved my life. Everyone at Cleveland Clinic Florida was awesome. They made me feel like I was part of their family and I felt very comfortable.”
Still, her life was turned upside down. She had no time for anything else except doctor visits and undergoing two surgeries. A strong support network jumped into action to make sure things got done. Her husband took care of all the household chores and drove their daughter everywhere. A small group of friends helped her maintain positivity and laughter, even showing up every day to pick her up so she could continue taking her 6-mile walks every day.
“The hardest part was not being there for my daughter. I was so consumed with myself, but I had to take care of my health. My goal was to get to the finish line.” So, she stuck to her routine. She continued to eat a healthy diet, walked every day, and did exactly what her doctors told her to do – which included drinking three liters of water every day during chemo.
Despite everyone who was there for her, certain friends had stopped talking to her or did not know what to say while she was going through treatment. Others, that she had not expected to be around, showed up in an above – and beyond way.
During a Life’s Victories photo shoot, Smith twirls and poses. She smiles with energy and positivity.
“I have to pretend I’m Heidi Klum,” she says. “I watch Project Runway every week.”
Smith now looks at life differently. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff. She says she appreciates all the things she can do every day. She embraces life as it comes, even if it’s taking time to read a book or watch television with her daughter.
The Diagnosis I was first diagnosed by Dr. Kaplan in March 2010, with Stage Zero breast cancer, after receiving abnormal results from an annual mammogram. I had my first surgery in August of that same year. It was a minor surgery, along with 30 days of radiation, as a precaution from reoccurring cancer cells.
Four and a half years later, after another annual mammogram, I received another call from Dr. Kaplan, her words were, “I’m sorry Diane, the cancer has returned in the same breast.”
Now, at Stage 1 breast cancer, I had to weigh my options. So, we decided that a double mastectomy would eliminate the odds of the cancer returning. I had my surgery in December 2014.
Sharing the News I contacted my family and told them the news. They asked me was I OK? They then wanted to know how bad it was.
Choosing Treatment Dr. Kaplan and I decided radiation would be the best treatment when I was first diagnosed. When the cancer reoccurred, we decided it was best for me to have a double mastectomy. I received excellent care and support from the doctors, staff, and my family. Kudos to my BFF, Linda, who bathed me daily.
How I Got Through I prayed a lot, every day, all day. I have many positive family members and loving friends. My family does not live in Florida. However, they all came one week at a time, during a six-week period, to help out, along with loving friends. I tried to stay stress-free.
What I Learned THIS IS NO JOKE! Early prevention makes a difference. Make sure to have annual mammograms, you don’t always have to have pain to have breast cancer. Read, research, and study. I changed my diet, I stay stress free, and I’m more open-minded about life and medical issues.
“I feel like it’s made me even more grateful for the little things in life”
The Diagnosis My first breast cancer diagnosis came in September 2014. I felt a lump during a self-exam. It was less than three months post-hysterectomy. So, I thought-all my doctors thought- that it was just my body cycling through hormones differently. It was still there after a few weeks. All the mammograms and ultrasounds came back normal, but the biopsy proved it was invasive mucinous carcinoma. I’m a firefighter, and I got the call just before I had to go out on another medical call. I hung up the phone, got in the truck, and told my lieutenant, “I have breast cancer.” I went through one major and one minor surgery.
My second diagnosis came in June 2016. The same invasive mucinous carcinoma was back. Six months later, I developed pulmonary pneumonitis and symptoms of lymphedema due to the radiation. There was scar tissue that required surgical removal and physical therapy.
Sharing the News I didn’t tell any family until I had more information and some answers for myself. Once I started telling people, it became overwhelming with the amount of questions people asked. So, I decided to post informational updates on Facebook to keep the exhaustive questioning to a minimum. I was always grateful for the concern and support but I was already overwhelmed (as I’m sure most people are when they are faced with such a life changing diagnosis). Choosing Treatment
I chose a bilateral mastectomy after my first diagnosis, with a two-stage reconstruction. The two-stage reconstruction was a necessary evil to stretch the remaining skin for permanent implants. But I chose bilateral mastectomy for a few reasons. First, my grandmother had breast cancer. So, I thought maybe it was genetic. I later found out that all of my genetic testing came back negative. Secondly, because I’m a firefighter, my chances of cancer increase by at least double. Also, I never wanted to deal with this again. All in all, I’ve undergone three surgeries to remove the cancer, 33 radiation treatments, two more surgeries to repair and reconstruct from radiation damage, a year of physical therapy to treat lymphedema, 20 hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions to treat pulmonary pneumonitis also from radiation damage, and now I have three more months of physical therapy to help combat any further scar tissue from developing.
How I Got Through Recovering from surgery. Sitting still and not being self-sufficient is not something I’m good at. The doctor reminded me how long I was going to be off from work and if I did anything more than my post-op body was ready for, that I may have to start from square one. My husband has been there for me for all of my surgeries over the years. He is hands down the best! Between him and my mom, I couldn’t ask for more…but I’m lucky enough to have more family members, a second family in the fire department, and friends that do what they can to support me and support my husband.
What I Learned I’ve seen a lot of doctors and done a lot of research about each phase of my journey. I believe all patients (no matter the condition) should be their own advocate. I’ve learned that through my mother. I also believe that every patient is different, and no one person or disease fits into the same box as the next person. Plans and treatments should be multifaceted and unique to each person. I also believe that our health and our diseases start with how we fuel our bodies. Nutrition is the first step. Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food!”.
I feel like it’s made me even more grateful for the little things in life. I also believe it’s made me more aware (and hopefully empathetic) to other people. Everyone at one time or another has something impacting their life. Yes, cancer sucks, but it’s not the only thing that sucks.
The Diagnosis I don’t think I’ll ever forget that day. It was June 16, 2016. My phone rang at 4:25 pm. I looked at the number, and I knew who it was right away. He said “Ms. Calvo, I received the results of your biopsy”. I conferenced Angel, my amazing husband, in on the call. The doctor started talking, and all I heard was “BREAST CANCER”. I fell to the floor and just sobbed, hugging myself. All I thought about at the time were my kids. Then I thought about my dear mom, my brother, my sisters and family. We are a very close family.
Sharing the News I called my three sisters Carol, Diana and Nigi. They were both at work. I never call anyone. I always text. So, they knew it wasn’t good news. I told them, the results to the biopsy came back positive. I was sobbing. They were sobbing and asking a million questions. All I kept saying was ‘I don’t know”.
As I told my mom the news, I could hear her break down. She asked me if I was sure. We were both crying, a lot. I hated the anguish I was causing my mom. Later that night I called my brother, Mauricio. He was optimistic from the start.
Choosing Treatment Dr.Tan-Chiu is very professional. She was very serious about the treatment I needed, and she was the first doctor to give me hope. Dr. Tan-Chiu was so thorough and approachable. She made me feel that I was in very capable hands. Nothing seemed too much trouble. Angel and I asked a bunch of questions and didn’t leave till 4 hours later. We left there full of information and ready to get started.
How I Got Through My #CalvoSquad never left my side. Calling, texting, sending flowers, chocolates (sweets were the only thing I could taste), coming by with food or just to visit. My kids kept me going. I fought so hard.
One of the things that really helped me was knowing I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t the only one going through this horrific life changing experience. I would think of how far I had come and how some women were just getting their diagnosis. It was bittersweet. My amazing family is like a solid set of concrete pillars, never letting me fall and holding me up even when they were so tired themselves.
What I Learned This big bully doesn’t tell me what to do anymore! I thought I was healthy before my diagnosis, but I really wasn’t. This horrible experience has changed me for the better. My entire family and I have a better diet. We exercise a little bit more, and we all have more patience. The whole family has changed. Fighting for your life isn’t easy, breast cancer is not easy at any stage. But I’m almost done. I’m so close. If you’re going through this, know that you will be done too. You have to cry and pick yourself up again and fight. Fight with every ounce of your strength. We are all so #CalvoStrong. Do not give up on yourself. We have this one life in this one body. Let go of all the b.s. and live life to the fullest.
Karen Davis has been with her husband, Craig, a world class runner, for 39 years. But when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, the race was on, and he began running for the cure.
At her Life’s Victories photo shoot, Karen took the opportunity to show her appreciation for all he had done, by posing with a pair of his running shoes and wearing a pin he designed to promote breast cancer awareness. He created a tagline for his running related fundraiser: With God’s speed outrun breast cancer. It’ll be a nice surprise when he sees the photos, she says.
“For better or worse were our vows,” Davis said. “My husband was not just my rock, he was my boulder!”
The support from her husband, family, and friends were not any kind of surprise for Davis. But for someone who kept fit and ate a healthy diet, being diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease was a shock. It was even a shock to her own doctor.
The tumor was discovered during a yearly mammogram which Davis has routinely undergone every year since she was 27. Doctors biopsied the tumor and discovered it was HER2/neu positive. Two weeks later, Davis underwent a double mastectomy.
She started chemotherapy a couple of weeks after her surgery. The nine months of chemo that followed was another journey unto itself. Some days were harder than others.
Davis had always had a lot of energy. The chemo made her tired and her mind was not as sharp. She felt foggy most of the time, also referred to as: “chemo brain”. The chemo led to diverticulitis, requiring her to follow a very limited diet. After completing the first round of chemo, she ended up with an infected spacer which was there in preparation for breast implant surgery. This led to several other surgeries to fight the infection.
“It’s frightening that every time you went in for surgery, you knew everyone.” Davis had had enough. She decided she didn’t need breasts or breast implants to be a woman. She just needed to be alive and healthy.
Davis knew if she listened to her well-chosen healthcare team, if she relied on the strength of her family and friends, she would get through it with a positive attitude. She had always been a positive person. She didn’t like drama before, but now she didn’t have any room for drama or negative thoughts. Along with her positive outlook, Davis credits her husband, children and grandchildren with giving her motivation to persevere. After each treatment, she knew she was that much closer to living a long, healthy, happy life with them.
“I was told I had breast cancer on April 16, 2014-two days before my birthday. It was the best gift I have ever received-to live again.”
The Diagnosis While working out at the gym I felt pain in my right breast. I put my hand on it, and I felt a lump. A few weeks later at my regularly scheduled annual mammogram/ultrasound I was told I needed to come back for a biopsy which confirmed a malignant tumor. My first thought was, “I’m not ready to die.”
Sharing the News I kept my journey quiet and didn’t tell most people until after the majority of the chemo and surgery were completed. I still to this day am not sure why I kept it so private. Maybe because I was scared of dying, maybe because I didn’t want people to worry, maybe I was afraid that people would think I wouldn’t be able to perform my duties at work, or maybe because I was embarrassed by my appearance and didn’t want to be judged or treated any differently. This experience taught me that it doesn’t matter what other people think, and that’s why I’m now able to tell my story. Choosing Treatment
I underwent chemo and had surgery. I did exactly what my doctors told me to do. I completely trusted them. I had the best group of doctors and nurses at Holy Cross Hospital. I am so grateful for all of them: Dr. Joseph Casey, Dr. Leonard Siegel, PA Dale Wyville, Dr. Patricia Rooney, Kala, Barbara, my nurses Debbie Santos and Millicent Burke. My Breast Navigator Kristy Simpson, not sure what I would have done without her. They made me feel like everything was going to be ok.
How I Got Through My Aunt who just turned 93 was diagnosed with breast cancer 40 years ago, she called me every week. Her strength and words of encouragement kept me focused on the positive. I only have a few family members and close friends that live down here. They were all by my side throughout my journey, helping me with laundry, taking me to doctor appointments, just getting me out of the house to take my mind off of things. My parents and lifelong friends from New Jersey came down to take me to my treatments. They sat with me all day and then stayed each of the weekends to help me out. Family and friends called every week, sent care packages, cards and inspirational gifts, they were incredible.
Thank you to Holy Cross Hospital, The American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen Foundation, AutoNation and the South Florida Ford Dealers for all of their support.
What I Learned I have learned to live in the moment, be fearless and have gratitude for every day. I want people to know that this experience had a positive outcome on my life. Not only am I in remission, I am a different person and learned so much about myself and how I want to live the rest of my life. I now have so much love and gratitude for everything and everyone. Cancer changed my life. In some ways, I feel like it saved my life. It gave me the strength to realize who and what is really important and to let go of what is not. It gave me the courage to go after my dreams and live them as a reality. I am so excited for the opportunities this second shot at life has given me.
I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer on August 16, 2016, after a suspicious mass was noted with my left axilla during my routine mammogram and ultrasound. It had already started spreading. My first thought was, “If the cancer had already left my breast, it must be everywhere.”
Sharing the News
I shared the news with my husband right away, and he supported me by letting me express how I felt. I did not tell other friends and family until I had a better idea of my prognosis.
My care at Holy Cross Hospital was superior. Dr. Casey puts his patients above all his other responsibilities. When he meets with you, you drive the meeting. The meeting has no end time, he does not look at his watch, and he encourages your questions. He provides expert education in the available options, is open to new approaches such as genomic testing, and his surgical work minimized pain and recovery time while optimizing the safety of my outcome.
I had a unique turn with regard to treatment. We were originally guided towards chemotherapy before surgery, but when my PET scan did not highlight the cancer (even where the positive biopsy had been taken) the plan changed to do surgery first, a unilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. After my surgical specimen was sent out to a specialty lab for genomic testing, it was determined that my risk for recurrence with and without chemo was almost the same, so I did not have to undergo chemo or radiation.
How I Got Through
The diagnosis itself is a wallop! You can never un-cancer yourself once they tell you, “you have it.” That psychological wound lingers a long time, and it needs care itself. The surgery is scary, of course, but losing a breast is a kind of out-of-body experience that goes on long after. I haven’t really gotten comfortable with the change after a year.
What I Learned
On top of being a general caregiver at home, I’m a trained nurse who specialized in oncology care, so the role reversal was complete for me. To have my former colleagues at the hospital care for me as a patient was strange. Entrusting the care to my husband and friends was difficult after being the one who did that work for so long.
Be proactive in learning about your case, and open-minded about treatments. New diagnostic tools like genomic testing made a world of difference to my treatment.
I learned that laughter really can be the best medicine. I’ve also always been an active and fit person, and the drive to maintain my fitness was also a strong motivator. You can find strength in yourself that you never knew you had and family, friends and caregivers can make all the difference.
Lisa Williams still has three rounds of chemotherapy and radiation when she arrives for her photoshoot. Her fourteen-year-old son is with her, smiling and supportive as she smiles and poses for the camera.
It was near the end of summer 2016 when her boyfriend discovered a lump in her left breast. She immediately went to her doctor for testing the next day.
The official diagnosis came in August. She had breast cancer. Her first thought: OMG, I have cancer. But she quickly worked out a plan of action with her doctors at Holy Cross Hospital. Her treatment included a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy.
A lumpectomy is a common treatment for early stage breast cancer. The surgery is less invasive than a unilateral or bilateral mastectomy and the patient is able to retain more of her breast tissue.
This was the first step before Williams was to begin more than a year of radiation, chemo and follow-up visits. The day before she was going in for surgery, something unexpected happened.
Her boyfriend suffered a fatal heart attack.
In the midst of the challenge of her life, she was unexpectedly dealt another. While she was getting ready to begin her journey as a cancer patient, she suddenly found herself without a partner and the sole caregiver for her teenage son.
Somehow, she got through one step at a time. She stayed calm and listened to her doctors. She continued working. She dedicated herself to making sure her son was okay and had everything he needed.
“Every time that you finish one part of your treatment,” Williams says, “it’s a milestone, and then on to the next step until you reach the end!”
In the past year of treatment, she has lost her hair, experienced the side effects of treatment, and lost her partner. She’s also been the gracious recipient of an incredible amount of support. It was the support of the team of doctors and nurses along with the encouragement and emotional help of friends, and the drive to take care of her son that carried her through.
“You look at life in a different way. My son and my family take priority. I have been through most of my treatment. I want anyone going through this to know that you can do this. You just have to be strong.”
The Diagnosis During a regular breast self-exam, I felt it. Over the next three years, I did mammograms, ultrasounds, and even a biopsy. All of these tests showed no trace of cancer, but the final biopsy showed irregular cells. Luckily, I had already decided the day of the biopsy to schedule the lumpectomy, and my doctor agreed. I had the procedure the very next day. The doctor called me four days after the lumpectomy with the news that I had mucinous carcinoma breast cancer.
Sharing the News My friends, family, and co-workers are everything. Two very close co-workers reached out immediately and answered my burning questions. They were already breast cancer survivors. My family cheered me up with love, support, and a constant reminder that I could handle anything. Just listening and responding with any comforting words worked for me. I just needed to know I was not going to be alone in the fight and I mattered to them.
Choosing Treatment I had a double mastectomy and implants. It was easy. I was told I only needed one breast removed, but when I asked the doctors if they could prove 100% that cancer was not inside the other “healthy” breast, they said no. So, I said, “They both must go!”
The hospitals were great. You quickly realize how often they perform these surgeries. Yet, they make you feel like you are the only one in the world at that moment. The day of my mastectomy I was strong and ready. About five minutes before they took me into the operating room, I lost it and busted out in tears due to fear. However, they had all been so great during preparation I decided to fight the tears with humor and told them I was crying because I didn’t have my coffee that morning. When I woke up, one of the nurses had a giftcard to Starbucks waiting for me. She told me I could get anything I wanted in the morning. I had made it through the surgery.
How I Got Through I could write a novel about how my school held a bake sale or how my friends and family made my family dinners while I healed or even how the nurses and doctors were my new squad (as the kids call it) over the next two years of constant doctor appointments.
Not having my time taken up by taking care of everyone else was great! I finished every episode of Veronica Mars and Impractical Jokers I could find and nobody made me feel guilty about not leaving the couch all day. My family and friends knew I earned it. They knew the effort they put in during the hard times would just help me heal faster to be ready for the good times.
What I Learned I have always been a little high on the positivity scale, so I cannot look you straight in the eyes and say it made me stronger or more positive. I am still working towards eating healthier with hopes I will not get a third cancer. I do not feel like battling another, so I try to look at the food I eat as the medicine my body needs.
Creating Team Pink CaP (Connie and Pam) for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in Fort Lauderdale brought me to a new level of positivity. Connie was one of the co-workers that mentally prepared me for the operation. I could hardly lift my arms that first walk, but I completed the 3 miles with friends and family by my side and a life to live ahead of me. That day I accepted the pink.
I want people to know that scientists, doctors, nurses, and researchers are my heroes. I want them to know that I appreciate the work they have done and will continue to do towards medical breakthroughs of any disease. It is because of them I am a survivor.
The Diagnosis In September 2012, I moved to Baytown, Texas and was following up with a routine mammogram when I was diagnosed. I had a mass on my right breast. I later had it biopsied and it was cancer.
Sharing the News For some reason I was not alarmed. Maybe it was because I had an aunt who had cancer in both breasts. I shared the news right away, and everyone else was shocked. Choosing Treatment
After consulting with my doctor, I chose to do chemo followed by radiation. Chemo was the most challenging. I was supposed to have four treatments of chemo but due to the neuropathy side effect, I was only able to do three treatments. I moved to Texas and didn’t have any family members, only friends. Prior to my diagnosis, I had joined a church. My pastor and his wife along with my friends were very supportive. I believe because of my faith in God and my wonderful oncologist, Dr. Haq, along with Dr. Joyner, my transition from cancer patient to survivor was very successful.
How I Got Through For me, I’m better being left alone then being coddled. I am who I am today because of what I have been through. I moved back to Florida and now I volunteer with the American Cancer Society and assist with their Road to Recovery program. I coordinate the rides for cancer patients, getting them to their treatment appointments, courtesy of the van donated by AutoNation.
What I Learned It has made me stronger. I used to be more reserved, and now I’m more outgoing and social. I am eating healthier now. I was a vegetarian before my diagnosis, and I’m still a vegetarian, but now I’m even more cognizant of what I eat and the quantity. I’ve also started taking vitamins.
My advice to others going through breast cancer is to listen to your doctors and ask a lot of questions.
I was diagnosed in January 2010 after a routine annual mammogram. I’ve been getting mammograms every year as long as I can remember. My body had always been cystic, and I had two previous biopsies on my right breast due to a few spots that were discovered. They turned out benign. This time, a spot was discovered so small that only a mammogram could detect it. I had a third biopsy and there it was – cancer.
Sharing the News
I am a very private person and I did not want anyone to know until I was ready. My first thought: how was I going to tell my 91 year-old mother who was bedridden with congestive heart failure. I just knew I had to hide this from her.
The first person I shared the news with was my sister, Lesley – my rock and caregiver. I didn’t tell any of my friends for quite some time. I was able to hide my cancer until my hair started falling out.
I chose to follow my doctors’ directions. My friend, Judi, works for a doctor in Jacksonville, and he agreed with the treatment plan from Cleveland Clinic Florida. I started with a lumpectomy, had four chemo treatments and radiation. My last radiation was January 23, 2011 – a year – from beginning to end.
Every time I had an appointment, I felt like I was in an episode of Cheers – everyone knew my name and made me feel at home. My oncologist, Dr. Elizabeth Stone, and my breast surgeon, Dr. Cassann Blake, both treated me with kindness, respect and professionalism. They saved my life. My clinical social worker, Cara Kondaki, was always there for support during this trying time. The radiology department – Joyce, Marcy, Tracy and Jeannette were always kind, gentle, and understanding. And the chemo staff, under Janet – truly, there are no words to describe their compassion.
How I Got Through
One of the most positive tools that helped me was, and still is, the Cleveland Clinic Book Club for breast cancer survivors. It’s more than a book club. We are all members of a special sisterhood, one that only we understand and have in common.
What I Learned
Stay positive as best you can while you take this journey. We are all given something in life that may seem like there is no way out of, but there is, most definitely. If you have someone that wants to help you, accept it, don’t shut them out like I did. I look back and see that I may have been the one with the illness, but the people that care about me and love me went through it too.
I like to help other women going through this same journey. For the past 5 years, during the holidays, I make homemade jams and jellies to give to chemo patients at Cleveland Clinic Florida. I also volunteer at the American Cancer Society and help fit chemo patients with wigs and bras. I honestly think sometimes that getting breast cancer was given to me to help others – I feel it is now my misson in life.
This is the second time I have been featured as a Sun Sentinel Life’s Victories survivor. The first was in October 2011. The Life’s Victories program is such a remarkable program highlighting a strong message of survival and inspirational stories.
I want people to look at me and see a survivor, and see that there is life after cancer. As you can see – since my first story – YES I have survived!!