Mary Jo Borrelli, Snyder County
After a family celebration in August 2000 at Shenandoah National Park, I needed antibiotics for insect bites. I thought I had an inflamed insect bite under one arm and went to my doctor who said let’s do a mammogram. It turned out that I had a tumor on the outside of the left breast. I opted for sentinel node biopsy, lumpectomy, and pre-adjuvant therapy with andriamycin.
I’ve been dutifully getting mammograms and this past year was in survivor mode. My sister has an ascending aortic aneurism and I thought I should pay attention and have tests for that. The radiologist found something on my spine. After almost 17 years, breast cancer has come to my spine. I’m now in the METAMORPH study at Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania. The study examines markers in blood, bone marrow, and tumor tissue to understand and track the changes that occur as disease progresses.
I first learned about the PBCC when some newly diagnosed friends were going to the October conference. They had a real hunger to learn more about breast cancer. Without the PBCC, many women would not know the treatment options available to them. I worked for the Department of Public Welfare for my whole career and I know how difficult it is for women to access information and care, and to advocate for themselves.
When I retired from the state, I became a disaster reservist for the U.S. Small Business Administration. I was able to help businesses and homeowners recover from disasters like Hurricane Sandy. It’s a great experience, helping people and seeing so much of our beautiful country while doing it. I’m on a very regular treatment schedule now, which will be once a month starting in August, and my medical team is optimistic I’ll soon be able to return to that disaster reservist work! Meanwhile, I enjoy my beautiful garden around my house, and my two little Maltese dogs who were rescues.
Having a child after breast cancer treatment does not make you more likely to have a recurrence, researchers say. According to a recent study presented at the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Conference. Researchers profiled more than 1,200 women under the age of 50 who were diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer before 2008. More than 300 of the women who participated became pregnant following treatment. The research team then matched each patient who became pregnant with three patients who had similar cancer characteristics, but did not become pregnant. After 10 years from the diagnosis, the research team found no difference in recurrence rate between women who became pregnant and those who did not.
Many survivors with ER-positive cancer are concerned with the need to stop post-surgery hormone therapy before they try to get pregnant (therapy that helps to prevent recurrence). Researchers recommend patients speak with their doctors when determining how long to wait before becoming pregnant if they receive hormone therapy.
Want to learn more? Read the complete study, click here.
When I heard the words “triple negative breast cancer,” I had no idea what they meant. Because of my faith though, I soon decided that for me it means triple positive faith. I felt I was triple positively blessed by the Holy Trinity … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I was diagnosed with a routine mammogram in 2010 and then had a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation.
I had the best support team ever with my children, my friends, and family. After about a year, I joined the Cancer Support Community of Philadelphia and met Yvonne McLean Florence and Sarita Joy Jordan there. They both told me about the PBCC, and Yvonne invited me to join her at the PBCC conference in 2015. I enjoyed the conference so much, especially when they announced at the luncheon that 3D mammograms would be covered by insurance. That was a “wow” moment! I was also glad to be able to meet Dr. Edith Mitchell, and to hear about her research on triple negative breast cancer. That is another reason I like the PBCC, because of the research.
Going through breast cancer made me a much stronger person. I have always been the quiet, shy one. This seemed to bring me out of my shell because I learned you could be a positive force in someone else’s life. I want other women to know that this is not your battle. You have to trust and believe that cancer is not a death sentence. You can keep going and keep moving. They will continue to find new treatments and it will be OK.
Without the PBCC, there would be so many people struggling to get mammograms now. Also, 3D mammograms still would not be covered by insurance in Pennsylvania. Without the PBCC, we would be back in the stone age.
Praise Worthy Creations and Events honored Gloria with the Sarita Joy Strength Award at their annual Pink Tea in April. Yvonne was one of the recipients last year and this year the award was renamed to honor the memory of Sarita Joy Jordan, who represented Philadelphia in the PBCC traveling photo exhibit.
The U.S. House of Representatives in Washington recently voted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and to replace it with a new law. The bill that passed the House of Representatives, called the American Health Care Act, also known as Trumpcare, removes federal health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions like breast cancer. Instead, individual states would be able to create high-risk pools which did not work in the past and will not work now. That means, if you have a pre-existing condition like breast cancer, you may be denied health insurance or charged more for your care.
We cannot let that happen.
The bill is now in the U.S. Senate. We have reached out to both U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey to find out where they stand on federal health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions like breast cancer. Sen. Casey has committed to saving federal protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Sen. Toomey has not taken a public position yet, but his office says he “will ensure affordable coverage for those with chronic conditions.”
Will you help us save federal health insurance protections for people with breast cancer?
Here’s what we need you to do:
Thank YOU for your passion and determination on this important issue. Together, we can make a difference for people with pre-existing conditions like breast cancer. Take action. Save lives.
The PA Breast Cancer Coalition represents hundreds of thousands of breast cancer survivors and their families across the state. For that reason, we need to tell you about something important happening right now in our country that will affect you, your family and your health insurance.
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the American Health Care Act, also known as Trumpcare. This bill would repeal and replace the current Affordable Care Act, which is also referred to as Obamacare. If that happens, we will no longer have FEDERAL health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions like breast cancer. Instead, the decision to cover or not cover pre-existing conditions would be left to individual states. States can put people with pre-existing conditions into “high-risk pools” where insurance companies can charge people more money for health insurance, if they are covered at all. We had high-risk pools before and they did not work.
We cannot let this happen for breast cancer survivors and others with pre-existing conditions. It could mean the difference between life and death.
We want to thank the Pennsylvania congressmen who voted against the bill which removed federal health insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions. That bill is called the American Health Care Act (AHCA) / Trumpcare.
Where is your congressman on this list? Click here to find YOUR congressman
Now, the bill is in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Senator Bob Casey has said he would vote NO on any bill that removes federal health insurance protections for pre-existing conditions and, in January, introduced his own amendment protecting Pennsylvanians with pre-existing conditions like breast cancer. U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has not yet taken a position on whether to save federal coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.
Betty Davis-Smith, Allegheny County
Diagnosed in 2016
When I was putting together a luncheon at my church to make other women aware of breast cancer issues, my daughter offered to help find literature for the event. She called the PA Breast Cancer Coalition and you sent me out the Friends Like Me care package. I could not imagine anyone going to all the trouble to put that together with such nice gift items and great educational materials. The basic information was easy to understand and helped me to decipher all the terminology. I particularly loved that there was a book for the spouse. The PBCC really thought of everything!
I had a double mastectomy in May 2016, and chemo and radiation. I was treated at Allegheny General Hospital and they did a great job. The hospital had a nurse navigator who answered all my questions and told me what to expect all along the way. When you finish chemo, they give you a little graduation certificate. People are just doing their jobs and don’t really have to go out of their way to stop and think about their patients in that way. They made it special. I also had tremendous support from church members and my pastor. I have belonged to a prayer group for about eight years so there was no shortage of people praying for me. I learned that I could do anything through Jesus Christ who strengthens me. I didn’t do anything by myself.
My husband Jessie and I have two daughters. We love to travel, go out to dinners, and to plays and concerts.
I want other women to know that you can survive this. Breast cancer is not the death sentence it once was. There are amazing advances in breast cancer treatment now. And we have the support of the PBCC. Without the PBCC, women might not know what is available to them in terms of information and support.
When I was in treatment, a nurse told me she saw marriages strengthened through breast cancer and others that fell apart. My marriage was definitely strengthened. My husband did things for me I never thought he would be able to do. Todd was my nurse after my bi-lateral mastectomy. He fed me, emptied my drains, bathed me, and made sure he gave me the pain meds on time. It was incredible.
I had found the lump myself. I just moved my hand across my breast and felt it. I got on the bed and asked Todd to check but he could not feel it. Fortunately, two doctors live next door and I asked one of them to come over. She did a breast exam right there in my living room. She said not to worry but to schedule a diagnostic mammogram. I had the mammogram and there it was. I was more afraid than I had ever been in my life when I heard the words “you have cancer.” I drove to where my husband works and fell into his arms. We retreated to our home. We had been planning a weekend at the beach and were all packed to go. I decided that nothing changes, not the plans to go away and not the things we wanted to do. I just kept saying that I wanted to live, I wanted to grow old with him, and I wanted to dance with our son Eric at his wedding.
I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. My surgeon said that is run-of-the-mill breast cancer and you are going to get through this. Hearing that made me feel much better. I put on my armor and went to battle at every chemo session. I wore the same outfit each time, my survivor t-shirt. My treatments turned into parties. When folks at the infusion center saw people coming in with balloons, they knew those visitors were coming to see me.
God was in this with me throughout. I knew I was a spoiled princess, daughter of the most high King.
I joined a support group called Loving Arms, the only faith-based support group in Berks County. When I meet women who are newly diagnosed I tell them to let people help you. If friends offer to clean your house, let them. If people want to cook meals for you, let them. If they cook something you cannot eat, feed the meal to your family. The outpouring of love, encouragement, and support I received was incredible. That only happens when God puts that on their hearts.
In the end, I got everything I asked for. Todd and I take walks, relax at the beach, and enjoy our time together. I danced at our son Eric’s wedding in May. He and his beautiful wife Jeannie are expecting a baby in October. Boy or girl, the baby will wear a pink ribbon. I have already picked out a onsie that says “I wear pink for my Grandma!”
Click here to see the Fox43 coverage of the event
Click here to see the CBS21 coverage of the event
The PA Breast Cancer Coalition recently had the honor of awarding $50,000 to researcher Nancy Lill, Ph.D. of Penn State Cancer Institute. Dr. Lill will use the grant on a specialized project targeting the treatment of aggressive triple-negative breast cancers. Her research team plans to advance novel anticancer compounds, known as schweinfurthin analogues, toward the ultimate goal of clinical use against certain cancers that have been resistant to chemotherapy, like triple-negative.
“The funding from the PA Breast Cancer Coalition fills a critical gap in the research pipeline.” said Dr. Lill. “By providing the research resources necessary to undertake such work and generate such evidence, you set the stage for leaps in scientific knowledge that will lead to new and effective treatments for breast cancer patients.”
Dr. Lill hosted a special immersion lab for students from the Harrisburg School District participating in the PBCC CARES (Community, Advocacy and Research Education for Students) program following the award presentation. She explained why triple-negative breast cancers are particularly difficult to treat and showed the students cancer cells through the microscope.
Funding for Dr. Lill’s research grant comes from Pennsylvanians who donate their PA income tax refund, private donors and contributions from the PA Breast Cancer Coalition’s Grassroots Partners.
Would you like to bring us closer to a cure for breast cancer? Donate your state income tax refund to breast cancer research on Line 32 of the PA-40 form or host a Grassroots Partner event in your community! Help us find a cure now… so our daughters won’t have to!