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The Importance of Physical, Loving Support

In spite of regular mammograms (the last had been in May, 2007) in November of 2007 I was shocked to be given a diagnosis of Stage-3 breast cancer. Adding to the trauma, my husband of fifty-four years had died little more than a year prior to my cancer diagnosis. At age seventy five I was still trying to find equilibrium and make sense out of my new role, living life alone.

A modified mastectomy was done mid-November. Nine lymph nodes were removed, all testing positive for cancer. I remained in a daze through surgery, scans, preparation for chemo, then some chemo which I was unable to tolerate. Then later I was given thirty- two computer assisted radiation treatments. My medical team of mostly compassionate and caring individuals made the experiences doable.

These several months later,I am thought to be cancer-free. In reprospect, I could not have survived any of the past year without the physical and prayerful support of my family and friends. My church made arrangements for transportation to all the radiation treatments and many of my medical appointments.

Living alone with life-threatening illness is difficult and sometimes terrifying. My husband dealt with pancreatic cancer for one year before it took his life. He remained at home under hospice care. However, it was my daily ministrations, food preparation and support that helped him cope and get through those months and weeks with for the most part, a satisfactory quality of life. Individuals going through serious illness are so fortunate and blessed when they have the support and care of a loving spouse.

Nelia Greer
Fountain Hills, AZ

Pati's journey

My story started in September 2007. One day I noticed that my left breast was not the same as my right one. The right one was a typical, 51 year old, nursed 3 kids, a little saggy, breast. The left one was starting to become firm again! I had just had 2 mammograms and a well visit to my GYN, so I really didn't think it was breast cancer. Perhaps a clogged duct, something like that. Well... I waited till the end of Sept., the 25th to be exact, when I had a physical already scheduled. By then it was even more firm in the area down near the areola. I showed my Dr. and said, "do you think I need an ultrasound?" He said,"Yes." and that is when my nightmare began.

I went for my ultrasound, which was deemed "suspicious", so I then had to have a breast MRI, which ultimately led to me going to see a surgeon for a biopsis. It was determined that I had stage 2 or 3 (couldn't tell) invasive breast cancer and an agressive treament was needed. I went thru chemotherapy first, because of the size, then I opted for a bilateral mastectomy (28 nodes removed, only first 3 effected) and finally radiation. I then had a Lattisimus dorsi flap surgery performed for reconstruction purposes and soon I will have the final surgery where my expanders are removed and gel implants are put in.

I want to say my surgeon said that "knowing what he knew now, he went back and looked at all my past mammos and saw the cancer as far back as 2 years ago."

I am doing fine now, cancer free, still trying to correct some of chemo's side effects but feeling very good! Breast self-exams are so important.

Pati Schembari
Montrose, NY

My Breast Cancer's Influence on My Daughter

My story began in July 2000, a few short months after the first photo ("Then") was taken of my daughter and me. She was only 10 years old when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer involving one of my lymph nodes. I picked up a pamphlet about how to tell your children you have cancer. The pamphlet, intended to encourage me, reported that children are very resilient to the news -- that is, except for adolescent girls. This was good news where my 4 year old son was concerned; not good news for my daughter. Knowing this was the case, I paid much closer attention to how I presented updates to her. We were not allowed to use the "C" word, until the day she insisted on going with me to help pick out my wig and the lady at the shop asked me what kind of cancer I had. It was harsh, but made me realize I could not shelter my daughter. Her personal make-up is so shaped by that period of her childhood, and shaped in a good way. In high school she helped organize and participated in cancer fund-raising events, graduated with honors, and received academic scholarships. "Then" was nearly 9 years ago and "now" my daughter is a freshman in college, majoring in psychology with hopes of one day working with children who are affected by serious illness or disorders that could affect them later in life. While we both worry about the possibility of breast cancer in her future, I try to focus on the positive and know that there are children out there who will one day benefit from the help of someone who had a very life-changing experience in her own childhood.

Bonnie Sohngen
Cincinnati, OH

Survivor 2+ months and counting

My annual exam was Jan.7th, 2009 with a Mammogram on the 8th. With-in 12 days I was back for a higher tech mammo, ultra sound and to my surprise, a biopsy. In one more week, we were meeting with my surgeon for results and a consult. 80% of the lumps are just lumps. Mine showed a malignancy. Our HMO does not mess around. Surgery was scheduled, "just in case." They encouraged me to seek a second opinion if there were any doubts.

For my age, (63) the two recommendations were lumpectomy with 5 weeks of radiation or mastectomy. My right breast was already considerably smaller than the left. Lumpectomy would have made the size difference worse. Mastectomy with a possible reconstruction down the road was the right choice for me. Arimidex, a hormone blocker, is recommended too.

The mastectomy was done on Feb.10th. For pain control, my surgeon used a pump device called ON-Q. It is a drip system that numbs the incision. My recovery was easy and pretty much pain free. Not having to work really helped. How in the world do young women with children do it?

If you are lucky like me and have the support of family and friends, breast cancer can be reduced to just one more bump in the road. Early detection is very important! If I had skipped my annual mammogram, my fight would be much more difficult. The lump was "hiding" under my nipple. It was difficult to feel even when shown where it was. My stage one cancer with negative nodes is so much easier to fight than it could have been. Thank heaven for Mammograms. My Doctor expects me to be around to watch our Grand kids grow up. Life is good!

Fontana, CA

I Did It My Way

In May of 2005, I had bariatric surgery. I weighed 387 pounds. In August I had gout as a result of the new high protein diet and also got a "bad" mammogram. I had lost 87 pounds, so they could finally "see" through the dense breast tissue. (I was a 48-DD) Small, less than stage 1 cancer in left breast which had broken out into the milk ducts.

My choice at age 59 was a bilateral mastectomy. I wasn't giving cancer a second chance and I wanted symmetry on my chest. Drastic choice; could have gone with radioactive seed beads or lumpectomy followed by radiation. My choice was to get it done and move on...didn't want to worry about a reoccurence in the same or the other breast in 5-10 years.

I am now 235 pounds...No breast reconstruction, no desire for it...and NO REGRETS...I am a survivor, but I also consider myself "cancer-free".

Meriel Collins
Wahiawa, HI

2008 was a very bad year

Went for my 1st mammogram 6-20-08 at age 46, with no clue anything was wrong. Mom went to the hospital 6-22. I was called for another bilateral mammogram 6-25, had ultrasounds too. Had bilateral biopsies 6-30. On 7-2 found out right side was benign fibroadenoma, left invasive ductal carcinoma with DCIS. Had right lumpectomy 7-16 (to be sure it was benign). Genetic testing was negative. All this while Mom was still in hospital. Mom came home 7-23.

On 8-1 had left mastectomy with reconstruction (latissimus dorsi flap and expander inserted). Came home 8-7. Mom was doing better but passed away suddenly 8-12 from a pulmonary embolism. I went to wake & funeral with drains still in! Found out on 8-18 I needed chemo. Mediport inserted 9-2, first chemo 9-5.

Cancer was stage 2A, ER/PR+, nodes negative, intermediate grade. Was to have 4 treatments of Adriamycin & Cytoxan, then 4 of Taxol. 1st treatment went well. Second had me sick for 2 full weeks, 3rd was delayed a week and dosage reduced. Was sick for over a month from that one. Oncologist discontinued chemo, said it was "beating me up too much". Last chemo 10-10.

Had expander removed and implant inserted; mediport removed; & ovaries & tubes removed on 12-17. Am in a clinical study that requires ovarian suppression so I chose removal vs. radiation or monthly lupron injections for 5 years. Will be on exemestane (Aromasin) for 5 years.

Had more reconstruction (on right breast) on 3-2.

No history of breast cancer in family. Dad had prostate cancer, his mom had colon cancer.

I am an RN and all I have experienced this past 9 months will help me be a better nurse. I have had tests I send patients for but never had observed.

Wish you all the best!

Cathy Walsh
Rocky River, OH

Breast Cancer survivor

I am 34 yrs. old with stage 3 breast cancer. I was diagnosed in June 2008. I had a mastectomy, and am done with chemo. and almost done with radiation. It is a very hard thing to deal with, especially with a 4 yr. old daughter. I never thought I was a strong person, but my illness made me strong. My daughter is my strength; she makes me forget that I have cancer by keeping me busy playing with her. That is what has helped me the most. I have a wonderful husband and mom that help me also. Breast cancer does not run in my family, I am the first one to be diagnosed. I ask everyone to please get your

mammogram and any other necessary tests.

Angie Malloy
Erie, MI

Why Not Me?

At the age of 49, I was performing in a local production of "Nunsense" as Mother Superior - lots of singing and dancing. One day following a performance I felt very sore at my right upper chest wall - closer to the shoulder than breast, I thought. There was a small knot. I thought I had just pulled something, but after a couple of days of soreness I called my doctor who arranged for a mammogram and sonogram. Two days later I was in for a core biopsy of two tumors in the same breast - the one at the upper chest wall and another one deep under the nipple that I would have never found with self-examination.

Two completely separate cancers were diagnosed and I was told I needed to have immediate surgery. My only option was a mastectomy because of the size of the tumors. The sentinel node procedure was relatively new, and my surgeon had done many, but the cancer was so aggressive they felt it had already progressed past the lymph nodes and I would require further surgery.

I remember crying on my way home, not sure how I would tell my husband. But then I said to myself, "Why not me?" It was the last time I would cry about anything for the next five years. I was determined I would get through it with strength and grace, and although it was the most difficult time in my life, I never once entertained the thought that the cancer had progressed. Following surgery, my doctors were amazed and thrilled to tell me that the cancer had not spread. I had both chemo and radiation and it's been almost 10 years now. I am still cancer free.

Marilyn Kittelson
Dallas, TX

Have hope!

I had breast cancer 10 years ago. The surgeon who found out told me I should have a mastectomy. (immediately)

I went for a second opinion, to a surgeon who is tops in the field. He said there was NO need for a mastectomy, that all I needed was 6 weeks of radiation.

I followed his advice, happily.


Best of luck!

Gurnee, IL

The fight will continue in memory of Cindy Eubanks

My story begins back in 2004 when I lost one of my best friends to breast cancer. I had also fought the disease and won my fight. Cindy did not; in our final conversations prior to her death, Cindy asked that I do something to keep the awareness front and center of the importance of mammograms and early detection. It was a time that I needed to do something for her and in her fashion, she went to work preparing all of us for what was to come. As a member of Soroptimist International of Rockwall, our focus is assistance to women and children for health needs. That year we joined the international fundraising campaign called WomenAid, and decided to focus our efforts on offering mammograms to any woman that could not afford the procedure. Each year since 2005 we have supported the local Helping Hands Clinic and have gone from the first year of $5,000 to the current campaign goal of $75,000.

I am proud to say the promise I made to Cindy has grown into an annual event saving lives. This I am sure of.

I love this website and share it often. Cindy used to tell me when taking on volunteer work, "Just say yes and then find your way". I will continue living by this motto and "Saying yes" when I can make a difference. For photos, visit our website or our latest campaign, Karen Coughlin, Rockwall Texas

Karen Coughlin
Rockwall, TX
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