Archive for the ‘Survivor Spotlight’ Category

Survivor Diagnosed at 40, Husband Becomes Caregiver for Second Time

Posted By on June 15th, 2016 at 9:03 am | 0 comments.

Nicole-Lee-survivor-spotlightThis month’s survivor spotlight, Nicole Lee, had a 6-month-old little boy when she went for her first mammogram. At age 40, she heard the words “you have breast cancer” and her first reaction was concern for her husband.

“Ryan cannot go through this again.”

Ryan, Nicole’s husband, lost his first wife to breast cancer. She was diagnosed when their twin sons were the exact same age as Nicole’s son Ashton – 6 months old.

Nicole Lee, Montgomery County

My life seemed perfect.  I was working as an operating room nurse at a big trauma hospital and living life to its fullest. I was single and happy with wonderful friends and family. I was having lots of fun going out, attending destination weddings, vacations, social functions; whatever was going on, I was there.  I did feel like there was just one thing missing.  I wanted to fall in love and share my life with someone. But my expectations were so high!  If someone was worthy of my heart they’d have to fulfill my long list of criteria and fit into my life. Then I met Ryan. It was the closest thing I’ve ever felt to love at first sight.  He made me laugh.  He was brilliant, witty, adventurous, kind, caring, and ambitious.

I also immediately fell in love with his two six-year old twin boys, Ethan and Brandon.  Ryan had lost his late wife to breast cancer in 2008.  She was diagnosed when she was 32 and the boys were only six months old.  She passed away only three years later.  But Ryan was in a very good place now.  He had done his grieving and had opened his heart and was ready to love again. I felt like the boys needed a mom and this was where I was meant to be in life.  I was even happier than I had ever been!  My family opened their hearts to the boys. I adopted the boys and in 2013 we got married on a beautiful beach in Cancun with 60 of our friends and family. We went about life holding nothing back.  With Ryan’s history, he did not want to miss out on anything.  It had been a tough few years for Ryan when his late wife was sick then as a single Dad.  He now had such a zest for life and it went right along with my philosophy.

Nicole Lee family

Nicole’s husband Ryan with their sons Ashton, Ethan and Brandon

After our wedding- I had started to feel like I wanted to have a baby.  Ryan was hesitant but he eventually said yes.   I think he wasn’t sure it would really happen. I wasn’t either.  But five months after our wedding I was pregnant and I was the happiest pregnant person ever to walk the earth.  I had an easy pregnancy and delivery. We had a healthy, beautiful baby boy, Ashton.  I cherished every moment with him.  I loved being his mom as well as a mom to Brandon and Ethan.  We were very lucky to have my mom come and help whenever we needed her.  She was just as in love with the baby and the boys as I was and loved to come and give me breaks. When Ashton was six months old I decided to stop breast feeding.

Since I had turned 40 a few months prior I had scheduled my first mammogram. After my mom came down to stay with me, I suddenly didn’t feel like going to the appointment.  I just didn’t want to leave the baby and figured I could wait a few more months. “Just go”, my mom said.  “I’m here so just go get it done”.  Off I went and I felt strangely excited like it was sort of a rite of passage. I was 40 years old with a baby and I felt good about where my life was.

That day would change everything.  My husband who is an Einstein radiologist and his friend and colleague, Dr. Deb Copit, head of Women’s Imaging at Einstein, greeted me, and I felt flattered she was there to welcome me and that she’d read my first mammogram. I headed to the room where the scans were then taken.  Then she told me what I never thought I’d hear.  She said I had breast cancer.  My immediate reaction was “Ryan cannot go through this again”.  I never thought this would happen to me, and this couldn’t happen to Ryan twice. I was diagnosed when our baby was six months old, the exact age that the boys were when Ryan’s late wife was diagnosed.  The similarity was eerie and unbelievable. The days after that are still blur.  I

Dr. Jennifer Simmons - Chief of Breast Surgery, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, shares Nicole's story at a recent opening reception for the PBCC's Photo Exhibit, 67 Women 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in Pennsylvania at Einstein.

Dr. Jennifer Simmons – Chief of Breast Surgery, Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, shares Nicole’s story at a recent opening reception for the PBCC’s Photo Exhibit, 67 Women 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in Pennsylvania at Einstein.

met Dr. Jen Simmons and she was amazing.  We actually cried together on that day I was diagnosed.  She was there not just as a breast surgeon but as a therapist and a sounding board.  It was a very dark time and very tough for my husband. Going through this once was hard enough but twice? I just prayed I’d be ok because the boys could not lose another mom and now we had a baby too.

My husband went into “clinical mode”, and was there for every meeting.  He made sure every aspect of my treatment was smooth and timely.  I can’t say enough about the wonderful treatment I had at Einstein.  I quickly began chemotherapy.  Dr. Biermann, Michele Dooley, Barb Heinzmann and all the nurses in the oncology department were unbelievable.  They were like a family to me and as much as I dreaded the chemo, I was happy seeing those faces when I arrived.  I decided to save my hair with cold caps so my husband and the boys would not see me as looking sick.  The regimen for the cold caps was very rigorous.  My Dad with the help of Ryan facilitated the hats for me at every chemotherapy session.  I wore the caps for NINE hours each time.  It was a huge amount of physical work so a different friend each time would come to help out in addition to my Dad and Ryan.  My mom came down to stay for every chemo to take care of the kids as I was sick for a while each time. After five months of chemo my MRI showed a “complete pathologic response” meaning all the cancer was gone.  This was truly a miracle.  I still was faced with a double mastectomy and reconstruction but the good news gave me extra strength.  It was a very tough time but I got through it with the help of my family. I don’t know how people do it without support.  My family and friends were there for me beyond my expectations.  Other survivors, acquaintances and friends I didn’t even know I had came out of nowhere.  My husband, my parents and my husband’s sister were there for every chemotherapy and surgery and I really didn’t worry about a thing except getting myself through it.  It was difficult to put our wonderful life on hold and have to be faced with battling cancer.  It’s been almost a year now for me and I’m doing great.  You never know what will happen in life and I never take anything for granted. I pray that I will live a long, healthy life. My husband and I are back to our normal life again.  I know this was a big bump in the road but looking at things now, my life is still perfect.

Survivor Spotlight: Marguerite Wormley, Delaware County

Posted By on May 10th, 2016 at 4:23 pm | 0 comments.

M.-Wormley-1 As soon as I turned 40 I went for an annual exam and mammogram and before I knew it, I was assigned to a breast cancer surgeon. I had chemo and radiation and chose lumpectomy. That was in 2008, it was stage 1 cancer and I’m happy to say I’m cancer free today.

Sometimes, as women, we love to be the caregiver and can have a hard time processing being helped. But you can’t go through this alone. For me, that support person was my sister-in-law. She came with me to all my medical appointments and she inspired me to keep a journal. The journal became a book, and when it became so popular it grew into a foundation. The book is called “Touch and Agree” and that’s also the name of the foundation.
I witnessed patients who had the same type treatment I did but whose insurance didn’t completely cover the cost of their medications. One of my children’s teachers shared with me that she had tapped out her savings paying for medications that her insurance didn’t cover. I knew there was a need for resources and the Touch N Agree Foundation helps women to cover those costs. I work as a senior customer service representative for Independence Blue Cross. I help people to understand their benefits and help them with their billing questions. I like to travel, especially to any place with a beach. My favorite spot is Cocoa Beach in Orlando, Florida.

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I never would have thought that I could go through something like that. I learned just how strong I really am.

Survivor Spotlight, 25 Years A Survivor: Brenda Benner, Perry County

Posted By on April 14th, 2016 at 12:16 pm | 0 comments.

brenda photoWhen I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1990, the PBCC had not yet been created. I learned about the PBCC last June when the traveling photo exhibit visited Perry County. I was really overwhelmed to see how many survivors were represented, and the program at the exhibit opening was very touching.

On that August morning in 1990, I was reading and reviewing my Sunday School lesson when I felt a lump in my breast. The next day I called my gynecologist and he made an appointment right away. A needle biopsy proved it to be cancer. I was in the middle of the Perry County Fair and my kids showed animals, so I said I can’t do anything now. The doctor was going on vacation the week after the fair so we scheduled surgery for the following week. I had a lumpectomy at first and then a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy.

My husband Glenn and I have a beef, cattle, and hog farm. We have two married daughters and four grandchildren. I did a lot of the farm work until our daughters got married and then our sons-in-law took over my jobs there. I taught school for 32 ½ years and I worked for Senator Jake Corman for seven years. Now I serve as Chairman of the Perry County Commissioners. I fill all my spare time with community things, volunteer efforts, serving on the board of Wings of Kindness, and anything that makes Perry County a better place to live and work.

Often someone will come by my office to ask advice for a friend or relative who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. I tell them to remember that it’s not a death sentence. I believe that having a positive attitude is a major part of the survival process. And I believe a religious conviction is extremely important too.

Wayne County Survivor Dedicated to Service after Diagnosis

Posted By on March 15th, 2016 at 8:31 am | 0 comments.

Melissa-Rickard-survivor-story-for-PLMelissa Rickard, Wayne County

Going through breast cancer taught me to accept what I cannot change. My grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40s and passed away in 2009. That April, I found a lump while doing a breast self-exam. I had a biopsy and then, on my 37th birthday, the surgeon told me I had DCIS and an area of micro-invasion. I had a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction.

If I had waited until I was 40 to have a mammogram I probably wouldn’t be here. Cancer is non-discriminating and that includes by age. I’m a nurse practitioner at Wayne Memorial Community Health Centers, and I encourage my patients to talk with their provider about screenings.

Wayne County conducted a community assessment and one of the barriers it highlighted is transportation. We learned that women weren’t getting screened because of lack of transportation to medical care and many were being diagnosed at a later stage with a higher mortality rate. We held a community campaign called Putting on the Pink to raise funds for a mobile mammography van. There is funding now for the equipment and the next step is to fund the van itself.
I also represent Wayne County in the PA Breast Cancer Coalition’s photo exhibit, 67 Women, 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in Pennsylvania and spoke at a recent exhibit opening at Wayne Memorial Hospital.
The biggest lesson I learned through my experience is that some of the things I thought were important just really weren’t. It was a tough adjustment, having surgeries and at the same time still being in the Reserves. But I’ve learned to prioritize and to be present. When I’m not working, I take time to enjoy gardening, exercising, and reading.

Young Survivor Finds Peace, Healing through Family & Fishing

Posted By on February 15th, 2016 at 9:20 am | 0 comments.
Survivor Mary Waugaman, center, found comfort through a fishing program for survivors called Casting for Recovery. For more information, see this month's Patient Advocacy tip!

Survivor Mary Waugaman, center, found comfort through a fishing program for survivors called Casting for Recovery. For more information, see this month’s Patient Advocacy tip!

Mary Waugaman, Indiana County

My mom had breast cancer in 1997 and her surgeon said, “When your daughter turns 35 I want her to get a baseline mammogram.” So two months before my 35th birthday in May 2006 my mom started nagging me. I scheduled the mammogram for July just to get her off my back. Luckily for me I turned 35 when I did and my mom kept nagging me because with that baseline mammogram I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.

I had a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection and then chemo and radiation. Then in 2008 I had a recurrence. The recurrence was estrogen positive so they suggested removing my ovaries, which I did in January 2009.

I found out that I was very strong. I hadn’t known that about myself. I remember before my first chemo treatment my dad saying, “It’s OK to be scared, honey.” But I wasn’t scared. I got very sick with the chemo but I knew what I had to do and I did it. When the recurrence happened, I didn’t think twice. I knew I had to have a mastectomy. I felt like breast cancer was coming back for me and I wanted to stop it. When my ovaries were removed I went into instant menopause. Of course then that meant I was unable to have children. Cancer took that from me too. I found myself getting depressed. You go through all the medical stuff and do what you have to do and then when it’s over you say, “what just happened?”.

My job as front office supervisor at Pediatric Alliance is two hours away from where I live so I don’t have a lot of spare time to connect with people and do therapeutic things for myself. But in 2012 I went to a Casting for Recovery retreat. That was the most amazing experience of my life. Casting for Recovery is a program that offers 2 ½ day fly fishing retreats for women with breast cancer. There were so many women with different stories and while no one’s experience was just like mine, each one could relate to one part of my story and vice versa. I got back into nature and found peace and quiet. That was the beginning of the healing of my mind and soul that I didn’t even realize were damaged. It brought me back to the person I was before breast cancer. I still stay in touch with those women.

My best advice for others is to be your own advocate. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s OK to get a second opinion. Talk to people, talk to your doctors, and don’t just do what you’re told unless you feel like you’re making the right decisions. And I share with them what someone told me … it’s OK to laugh and it’s OK to cry. As long as you have that little bit of laughter along with the crying.

Surviving Breast Cancer, One Stitch at a Time

Posted By on January 15th, 2016 at 9:56 am | 0 comments.
Heidi-Kelly-for-Pl

Survivor Heidi Kelly makes beautiful handbags. This month, she is donating a portion of her sales to the PBCC!

Heidi Kelly, Berks County

Four years ago I saw something on my breast … not a lump, a dent. I thought it was a bruise but it wasn’t going away. After a while I kind of knew what it was but I didn’t want to think about it. At that time Giuliana Rancic of E! Entertainment News was going through breast cancer treatment and whenever I saw her I thought maybe I should go get this checked…

When I finally told my husband he freaked out. Michael’s mom had breast cancer and he stayed up half the night talking to his sisters who are in the medical field. He called my doctor in the morning and said we’re going to get this checked. I didn’t want to go because it was our anniversary and I didn’t want to ruin the day.

I had a biopsy and a few days later it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. My husband did the research because reading about it made me too upset. The surgeon wanted to save my breasts but I didn’t want them. I just wanted to get rid of them. I had a double mastectomy and full reconstruction. Then I went on my merry way and was good for two years. Two years almost to the day I found a lump on my scar which the plastic surgeon at first thought might be a suture, but the result was breast cancer again.

During this time, I was sewing and learning how to make handbags. I was using other people’s patterns and then I started creating my own patterns. Strangers on the street started complimenting me on them and whenever I posted photos of the bags on Facebook friends would ask for them. Michael said we might want to try to turn this into a business and HKelly designs was born. Whenever I felt good enough I was sewing. My sewing machine became my therapist. This month, I’m selling handmade items on my website with proceeds going to the PA Breast Cancer Coalition!

This experience taught me that I’m stronger than I ever thought I was. I’ve always been considered an emotional type who cries at TV commercials. I was outspoken though about my breast cancer and several friends had mammograms after I talked about it openly with them. My new motto is live life now; don’t wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow might not come and not necessarily because of breast cancer. Be the individual who you are. Keeping in mind that tomorrow might not come, my husband and I travel all the time now. Las Vegas is a favorite place; in fact, we were married there in 2007 and we’ve gone back twice this year. We were in Italy last spring and we are headed to Alaska next spring!

To check out Heidi’s designs, click here.

90-Year-Old Survivor Finds the “5 Important Things”

Posted By on December 15th, 2015 at 8:24 am | 0 comments.

Audrey-Marschka-edited-for-PLAudrey Marschka, Lancaster County

Going through having breast cancer made me stop and think about the important things. I came up with five: faith, family, friends, food, and flowers.

In December 2000 I went for my regular six-month checkup. At first the doctor thought what was discovered on my breast was a cyst. But being a nurse, I knew when they kept pausing that something was wrong. It was stage 4 breast cancer. It was suggested that I could wait a few months but I didn’t want to do that. Fortunately, we found a surgeon who was willing to do it right away. I was 75 years old at the time of diagnosis and the chemo and radiation really knocked the pep out of me.

I believe my faith got me through. It’s become more and more important as I’ve gotten older. My husband Dave and I have been members of the Grandview United Methodist Church for 60 years. Recently the Sunday school children presented us with roses to commemorate that. Family is, of course, the other thing I relied on, especially Dave and our children. We have three sons, one daughter, seven grandchildren and five great-granddaughters.

It’s important to have friends and no matter where you go you can meet more, when you travel, when you volunteer, in the neighborhood, and at church. We moved into a retirement village two years ago and we’ve made more friends here. One day a lady asked me if I was always happy. I had never really thought about it but I had to say “Yes, I guess I am. It helps.”

As far as food and flowers, my mother taught me about nutrition. I knew all about it before the exam in nursing school. I still eat five to six servings of fruit and vegetables every day. It’s easy if you think about it. And flowers … oh my gosh what would I do without my garden and my sunporch!

Another thing that helped that first year was listening to good music. I like opera and classical music and jazz.

Five years ago, Dave and I got a book about tai chi and we practice that every day for 15-20 minutes and we use a stationary bike. I really believe in tai chi and it helps a lot with balance. Cancer can do a lot of things but it can’t take everything away from you either, especially those five most important things.

Montgomery County survivor “Changed by Chance”

Posted By on November 16th, 2015 at 1:15 pm | 0 comments.

Elizabeth-Barker

Elizabeth (Liz) Barker, Montgomery County

I had a 17-month-old son and was six months pregnant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 34 years old, had no family history and was in very good health. Doctors recommended that I abort the pregnancy to “save myself.” They said my child would be slow and small because of exposure to chemotherapy. That child is now 25 years old, has always been a varsity athlete, and is currently on full scholarship to get his Ph.D. in neuroscience.

That breast cancer diagnosis came at a time when I felt broken inside.  A year before that I had lost my little girl Lauren who was only three years old. Lauren was born with Down’s syndrome and had significant health issues. She spent her first five months in the hospital, and then came home with a tracheostomy and a tube in her stomach to eat. Within five years I had been pregnant three times, and felt like I’d spent five years in unrelenting stress.

I credit my longevity to two things: an extremely positive outlook and keeping active and healthy through yoga. After completing traditional medical treatments I saw a homeopathic physician who gave me a regimen of herbs to cleanse out the toxins from chemo. He also practices astrology and every year I went to him for a reading. Year after year he would say that when the time was right, I’d be sharing my story and be in the public eye. The year that would have been Lauren’s 25th birthday, I did a fundraiser in her memory for the Arc Alliance, a nonprofit focused on people with special needs. It filled me with love and energy, and I said now it’s time. I pledged to start exercising and to write a book about my experiences. “Changed by Chance” took two years to complete and was published this September.

As Irving Berlin said, “Life is 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it.” When you’re faced with adversity, I say practice the three R’s: Recognize:  whatever you’re facing and own it; Reflect: become educated to understand your options; and React: take action and move forward based on that research.