My Fourth "Suspicious" Journey with Breast Cancer
How did I get here- I never could have comprehended what this breast cancer path for myself-my healthy, active, vibrant self would be, but here I am and here it is… my fourth diagnosis.
I grew up in a ‘normal’ home with loving parents as a healthy, active little girl with two older brothers and our dog. Loved playing outside, going to dance class, lots of friends and the highlight each year was our summers at the Jersey shore. Nothing better than playing on the beach and swimming in the ocean from morning till evening and then outside to play some more- until I was old enough to babysit or work at a store on the boardwalk!
Now fast forward and I am married with 3 sons and my own dog and a cat, working and playing hard and still enjoying family beach time. So, after starting my first baseline mammogram at 35 because I had a maternal aunt diagnosed with breast cancer in her 70’s, I really didn’t think much about it. That’s until I was 37 and my mother now in her 70’s was also diagnosed. Going back for my routine mammogram, there was something “suspicious”- a word I’ve grown to despise! My journey has begun. I had a diagnosis of DCIS at 37 and again something “suspicious” at 39 years of age. Both times, contained and ER+. Lumpectomy we thought would do the trick along with keeping a “close watch”.
Then at 48, again something ‘suspicious” appeared, only this time it was more invasive. After 3 surgeries in one breast with the amazing Dr. Gordon Schwartz at Jefferson Hospital we knew this time we needed more. So we took a more assertive approach with lumpectomy, sentinel node testing, six and a half weeks of radiation, Oncotype testing for future recurrence risk (which I was borderline at #18) and I learned about genetic testing which I proceeded to have completed at University of Pennsylvania with a wonderful team of genetic counselors. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed then as a carrier of the BRCA2+ genetic mutation. This mutation puts me at a much higher risk for developing breast cancer, ovarian, pancreatic and melanoma just to name a few. So next step was to have a complete hysterectomy to reduce my risk for ovarian cancer as well as remove some of the hormones in my body to lower the recurrence risk for breast cancer even more along with taking Tamoxifen for 5 years. Sharing the genetic information with my brothers and extended family, both my brothers have been tested and also carry the same BRCA2+ mutation. Remember this mutation can be passed from a mother or father to a sister or brother! In addition, my brother Harvey is also now a survivor of male breast cancer (with mastectomy) and prostate cancer too- all thanks to the BRCA mutation.
With my brother Harvey's diagnosis, we discovered there was very little information available about breast cancer in men. In 2009 we co-founded HIS Breast Cancer Awareness, Inc. so we could help educate and support others at risk of or going thru a male breast cancer diagnosis, especially with the BRCA genetic mutation.
My life is surrounded by health, wellness and cancer- not necessarily 3 words you hear all together. It’s how I live, it’s my “day job” at LuckyVitamin.com and my volunteer work. I speak about living a healthier life style which I strongly believe in, especially when you carry a gene mutation. I talk about breast cancer on a daily basis whether it’s with others through my charity work or writing a blog to share, or friends who have someone in their life recently diagnosed and need information and support. And when I’m not talking or writing about it, I can guarantee you I’m thinking about it because once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it is part of your everyday life. I don’t believe in being “cancer free”, our body makes cancer cells, so we need to do all we can to keep our immune system stronger, healthier and our mind the same! Daily meditation is an amazing tool you can do anywhere, anytime!
So now we fast forward 10 more years, and at 58 I’ve recently received my 4th diagnosis of breast cancer after seeing something “suspicious” on my annual breast MRI. Thankfully Dr. Susan Domchek has guided and watched over me well so we were able to diagnose this early! After the past 2 months of follow up testing with mammogram, ultra sound, another MRI, core needle biopsy, PET scan, and another attempt at sentinel node testing, I’m now awaiting my Double Mastectomy. With all my past history, I always expected this day to come, I really just thought I had a little more time but cancer seems to have its own schedule. I will be completing the full skin sparing mastectomy, with Latissimus flap, expanders and eventually implants with doctors Melissa Lazar and Steven Copit of Jefferson Hospital in which I have my dearest friend Lori (an ovarian and breast cancer survivor) and Dr. Anne Rosenberg to thank for all their amazing help support and encouragement.
When my husband asked "if I will miss my boobs" I answered "yes". He was confused as to why since they have caused me so much problem with disease! I said, because they are mine. Just like a child or a pet or an old favorite piece of clothing, even if it's not perfect, it's yours! And so removing them from my body, to replace with strange attachments that I won't feel, will remain cold all the time and without sensitivity can not simply be exchanged. On a good note, though they will be healthy, keep me healthier and of course since I'm 58-look much better than the real ones!
What Lori, my brother Harvey and I talk about often is how “we” have been chosen to receive our diagnosis, and so we speak about it often in hopes of helping others by awareness, education and support to help save lives. Whether it’s support with organizations like FORCE, the people at the Basser Center or the documentary, Pink and Blue: Colors of Hereditary Cancer Harvey and I were honored to assist with, or the person sitting next to us on a plane or we meet by chance, we work daily to make sure our voice and passions are heard. We know we have helped and saved lives!
The words we often hear “warrior”, “fighter”, “the strongest person”, “courage”, “positive attitude” are all what helps to get us through each day, but honestly, all our strength comes from our friends and family surrounding us. Because of all the support and love we receive, we are able to pay it forward to the next person and the next person, etc.
I couldn’t feel more blessed, even as I prepare for the surgeries and challenging months that lay ahead. I am thankful for early detections thru MRI and for all the research and those who have come before me, who have allowed the roads to be tested and all the improvements made so my surgery can be successful.
I am thankful for my amazing, supportive, loving mother (turning 92!), husband, children, grandson, grand-dog, family, friends and co-workers who have shown me so much love and support. I know that I will get thru the weeks and months ahead quickly so I can look forward to all the wonderful things life has to offer and so I can continue to support the next person on this journey. And remember, keep dancing, take long walks on the beach, mediate to welcome and appreciate each day, make healthier choices, do what makes you feel good and most important, surround yourself with all wonderful, caring and loving people, just as I have.
To learn more about myself, Male Breast Cancer, BRCA and additional links for support and resources, please visit HIS Breast Cancer Awareness at www.hisbreastcancer.org
Modeh Ani- I Am Thankful
"I have chosen to be happy because it is good for my health" Voltaire