Archive for the ‘Survivor Spotlight’ Category

Erie Survivor Moved to Make a Difference Through Love of Music

Posted By on April 15th, 2015 at 8:38 am | 2 comments.

Elisa-Guida-for-PlI’m very independent and didn’t want any help the first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago. I learned that was really not the way to go and the second time, 10 years ago, I welcomed help from my friends. I had started having mammograms at the age of 35 because I had cystic fibroid breasts and thought I’d never be able to find a lump myself. At 40 a mammogram detected a cluster of micro calcifications.

The first time I had stage 0, had a lumpectomy and lymph node removal. The cancer was back six years later but it went undiagnosed because I had a stereotactic biopsy at 1:00 o’clock but the cancer was at the 12:00 o’clock point. When I got the right diagnosis at year 10, I had two different kinds of cancer. I had DCIS stage 1 and I also had a tubular cancer which is quite rare.

I knew if my cancer came back, that I would have to have a mastectomy.  After doing research about reconstructing a radiated breast area, I was 99 % sure that I was NOT going to have reconstruction, but I met with the plastic surgeon anyway. There was no advantage to having reconstruction at the time of surgery vs. years later, if I would choose to do that. I also visited a prosthetics provider so that I could see and feel prosthesis.  After all of that I decided NOT to have reconstruction and never looked back and that was 10 years ago.

The mastectomy was easier for me than the lumpectomy had been. I had the mastectomy on Monday, was home on Tuesday, and out grocery shopping on Friday.

I am a custom jeweler and have a love of music and was at one point commissioned to create a guitar string bracelet. Then in 2008 my husband and I went to a Bon Jovi concert and I had the inspiration to get famous artists to give me their guitar strings. I created the nonprofit StringsforaCURE® in 2010. The jewelry made from those strings is what got everyone interested in the charity’s programs and fundraisers. And Jon Bon Jovi is among the many artists who have donated strings. Over 900 pieces have been made and are being worn all over the world.

Mother, Daughter Fight Breast Cancer Together 10 Years Apart

Posted By on March 16th, 2015 at 8:37 am | 4 comments.

Anita-and-Kerri-Survivor-Spotlight-for-PLAnita Conner and Kerri Conner-Matchett, Philadelphia County

“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh I gave my daughter breast cancer.’” That’s what Philadelphia survivor Anita Conner thought when her daughter, Kerri was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, exactly 10 years to the day after Anita’s own diagnosis. Now together, they’re on a mission to educate and motivate women of color to get breast health screenings and treatments.

 

Anita Conner

My husband and I found the lump on my left breast. I went to the gynecologist and he said there’s a lump there but it’s not cancerous. So… you go about your business. It just so happened later that I was having some issues and we decided to have a hysterectomy. The surgeon wanted to do a biopsy on the lump and that’s when we learned I had advanced stage breast cancer. Over 18 months had passed. Of the 20 lymph nodes tested, 14 were malignant. I had the breast removed and had high dose chemotherapy.

I was very fortunate in that I own my own business as a CPA. It turned out to be the best year in business. People have a tendency to step up to the plate when they’re needed. I continued to work when I could because that’s what I needed to do to heal.

After I started getting better, we recognized that in our community there wasn’t enough information about breast cancer in African-American women. We came up with the idea to reach out to the faith-based community because that’s where the women are … they are in church. We approached ten churches that are clients of ours and proposed a day we called Praise Sunday. On Praise Sunday we would give out literature to the congregation and have a speaker present a two or three minute talk. All of the churches said yes. This year is our 10th anniversary and now that has expanded into the Week of Hope, Health, and Healing. The last Sunday in September is Praise Sunday, then throughout the week there are survivors pamper parties, a health fair, and a program called Real Men Wear Pink. We close out with a concert on Saturday. It has grown into a nonprofit called Praise is the Cure. This year the youth festival will be presented in 25 sites in the Philadelphia school district, and we expect to reach 400 churches in the tri-state area with Praise Sunday.

I want other women to know that breast cancer is not a death sentence. You have to be active in your health and remember that no one knows your body better than you do.  For more information on Anita’s nonprofit, Praise is the Cure, click here.

Kerri Conner-Matchett

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, exactly ten years to the day after my mother. The lump was above my breast area. My daughter was two years old and I had br
eastfed her, so some people thought it might have been milk in the milk ducts. But because of my mother’s experience, I thought I’d better me,-madison-and-my-mom-for-PLget it checked out. It was stage 3 breast cancer and very aggressive. I was 33 years old.

I had high dose chemo, a double mastectomy, radiation, and two more years of chemo and then reconstructive surgery.

I had a huge support system. I knew it would be a tough journey but I didn’t have any doubt about surviving because I’d seen my mother make it. She was my advocate. I knew my hair would fall out, my skin would turn a different color, my nails might turn black. I also knew I was going to get a brand new pair of breasts and even a flat stomach!
My husband and I have a daughter and are now trying to adopt two more children, foster children who were placed with us. They are all a blessing. Madison will be nine in March, James is four and Haniyah is three. A lot of women have trouble talking to their children about MyMommyHasBreastCancerwhat’s happening. With that in mind, I wrote a book called, “My Mommy has Breast Cancer but She’s OK.” 
When I was diagnosed someone told me that a Monarch butterfly travels 1,000 miles in its lifetime. If a butterfly can do it, you can. Don’t give up and you’ll make it to your destination.

 

 

PBCC Advocacy Helps Fayette Survivor Find Support, Strength

Posted By on February 16th, 2015 at 8:29 am | 3 comments.

JaynetteSurvivorStoryforPLWell, I did a terrible thing. I went for three years without a mammogram, working, going camping, and just doing whatever I wanted to do. The doctor’s office would make an appointment for me and I’d cancel it. Then I realized I had a lump and I made an appointment and had a mammogram. I knew they’d be calling me back in, and two days later they did. I went for a diagnostic ultrasound, then a biopsy, and was diagnosed with breast cancer on July 26, 2013.

When I learned I had breast cancer I did an online search and found the PBCC. I didn’t know where else to turn and the PBCC was so helpful! I got my Friends Like Me care package within a week. There was so much good information. It gave me something to concentrate on.
I had a modified radical mastectomy, then chemo, took a month off to rest, and then I had 36 radiation treatments.
When I was on my 3rd of 20 chemo treatments, my Family Medical Leave (FMLA) ran out and I lost my job. I was trying to keep up with COBRA payments, and I think what happens is that nobody wants to talk about not being able to pay their bills. But I eventually mentioned it to my niece who lives in another state and she knew someone there who got coverage through the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act (BCCPT). I called the PBCC to see if that was available in PA and you helped me find out how to apply. It was such a huge relief, not having to worry about how to come up with the COBRA payments!
jaynettelastchemoMy husband was such a great support. He said, “You can’t give up now. You have to keep on going.” The other biggest help I had was Luca, a yellow golden retriever. Luca is a therapy dog who comes to UPMC Magee and is owned by Sister Pat, a Catholic nun. Pets with Heart is a program of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden PA.  All throughout my chemo treatments, Sister Pat brought Luca in and she would sit with me. I never would have done as well without her.
One thing I want other women to know is not to be upset if they have chemo fog. If you forget things, just laugh about it. It’s healthier. Look on the bright side because there are so many people that want to help you. Unity Journey of Hope, a nonprofit organization working to fulfill wishes for adults facing illnesses, granted me a wish. I haven’t been able to ride bikes or ski or travel like I used to do because I’ve had too much pain and discomfort. But I have always wanted to eat in a 5-star restaurant and they granted me that wish!
Now I’m looking forward to going to the Pink Zone basketball game at Penn State! This would be my first time and that looks like a lot of fun!

PBCC Volunteer, Advocate Finds “ABCs” of Survivorship

Posted By on January 15th, 2015 at 10:29 am | 12 comments.
Cheryl Delsite (left) enjoys sharing laughs with friend and fellow ABCs support group member Karen Byers

Cheryl Delsite (left) enjoys sharing laughs with friend and fellow ABCs support group member Karen Byers

Cheryl Delsite, Northumberland County

At 29, Cheryl Delsite had a modified radical mastectomy to save the radiation from hitting her heart.   She found the lump on her breast in 1990 and didn’t do anything about it until six months later when she went for a yearly checkup. Her doctor sent her for her first mammogram. The lump didn’t show up, so he sent her to a surgeon who thought it might be fibroid tissue. They scheduled surgery to remove it.  The whole time he was saying “You’re too young, there’s no family history…”, but then the preliminary pathology report confirmed that…  She had breast cancer.

“I chose a modified radical mastectomy, because where the lump was any radiation would have hit my heart.  I had just learned that I was pregnant and then I had a miscarriage. When I started treatment, I was told I would probably not be able to have children because of the chemotherapy. Three years later I got pregnant with my daughter Meghan. You should have seen the doctor’s face when I told him!”  Five years after Meghan was born, Cheryl got pregnant with Morgan and then the next year had her son Collin. Now Meghan is a junior at Penn State Altoona, Morgan is a junior at Connections Academy, and Collin is a freshman at Northumberland Christian.

In 2000, Cheryl’s implant ruptured. At that time insurers were only required to cover reconstruction up to six years after breast surgery, although two years later the PBCC’s follow-up legislation would lift that time limit. Her insurance company agreed to cover removing the ruptured implant, but refused to cover the cost of replacing it. Cheryl would have had to go back to wearing a prosthesis.  She reached out to family and friends for advice. Her sister-in-law was working for then Attorney General Tom Corbett. He referred her to First Lady Michele Ridge’s chief of staff. Mrs. Ridge was the PBCC Honorary Chair and she put Cheryl in touch with the PBCC. The PBCC advocated on her behalf to the insurance company. The insurer reversed their original ruling and covered the surgery.

“Through the PBCC I became connected with the ABC’S (All Breast Cancer Survivors) support group and I’m happy to travel from Sunbury to Carlisle PA for our meetings. I love these ladies. Each one of them is in a different stage of their cancer journey and they’re always willing to encourage one another.”

pink ribbon tattoo

Cheryl shows off her pink ribbon tattoo at our PA Breast Cancer Coalition Conference.

Cheryl celebrated the 10th anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis by getting a pink ribbon tattoo on her ankle!

On March 1st Cheryl will be at Penn State for Pink Zone. The first year she went with her daughter, her niece, a cousin and a friend. Now this year there are 40 of them going … all survivors and family members. Cheryl says they have a ball!

“I meet a lot of women when they are newly diagnosed and I tell them to be their own best advocates. Ask questions, get second opinions, and talk with survivors.”
Cheryl and her husband Kevin live with their family in Sunbury PA. She’s worked as administrative assistant for the City of Sunbury in the mayor’s office since 1996. In 2014, Cheryl volunteered over 25 hours for the PBCC at the conference, at the Ta Ta Trot, and by representing the PBCC at a number of other events throughout the state.

PinkZonead

Spiritual Strength Empowers Philadelphia Survivor, Advocate

Posted By on December 15th, 2014 at 9:42 am | 280 comments.

Pamela-Nanton-for-PL

Pamela Nanton, Philadelphia

One day in May 2005 while I was in the shower, I noticed a lump. I wasn’t really checking my breast. I just came across it. I went to the doctor and he said let’s get you in for a mammogram. I didn’t go, though. I kept on working my busy schedule and traveling for work. I had a trip planned to El Salvador and went back to the doctor for a check-up. He said, “I don’t see any mammogram results in your file yet.” So I finally went…

Every time I started to get dressed after the mammogram I would be called back in for more pictures. After three or four times I thought they didn’t know what they were doing. It never occurred to me that there was a problem.
Fear and ignorance kept me from returning the call to get the results. Several days later I got the news that it was breast cancer and that I should talk to a breast surgeon. The surgeon I met with was using words that were over my head and he just kept talking. I didn’t understand anything he said. In my head all I heard was white noise, like the sound of Charlie Brown’s teacher talking.
Thank God I had brought my girlfriend with me who took notes. I called my mom and she prayed for me. A friend of the family knew a surgeon in Atlanta where I was living at the time, and his amazing bedside manner made a big difference.
I needed my family around me. My mom came and stayed with me for ten days. On the 11th day my sister arrived. My mom was there for the surgery and my sister stayed while I was healing. It was all so surreal. I was really thrown when my hands turned black and the texture of the skin changed from the chemo. While I was in treatment I heard from two cousins who both said they had had breast cancer long ago. They never said anything until then.  I realized right then and there that I was going to be an advocate and be upfront about it. I’m a bold person. I wore my head bald for three months.
I come from a praying, spiritual family. My sister is a minister. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to cry and a time to laugh.” I could ask Jesus “Why me?” but I tried to flip it around as often as possible and say “Why not me?”
For almost three years afterwards, my surgeon gave my phone number to newly diagnosed women. There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy. If you can empathize with me, that means you can understand me on a deeper level and I can talk with you. I think it’s important for us to be able to have that connection with one another … to say “Hey, I had that and I’m here to tell you that it’s been ten years.”

Survivor Stories: “I Feel Like I Can Conquer Anything Now.”

Posted By on November 14th, 2014 at 7:53 am | 436 comments.

Tomika-Bryan-for-PLTomika Bryant, Montgomery County

It started with me feeling really tired, just no energy, and I thought it was low blood sugar. And then I got an email that the Fox Chase Cancer Center’s mammography van was coming to my husband’s workplace at GlaxoSmithKline. My gynecologist had been telling me to get a mammogram and then the day the van was scheduled, I felt a lump in the shower. I thought I must have been imagining things. I got the mammogram done, told them about the lump I felt, and they saw it. I needed to get a biopsy. That was right before Mother’s Day in 2013.

Afterwards I got a call saying it was triple-negative breast cancer. She started talking about grade and tumor size and I didn’t know what it all meant. I decided to get a second opinion at Penn and wound up having surgery and treatment there. I had a double mastectomy and tram flap for reconstruction. I had to have chemo but no radiation because there was no node involvement. My treatment is all finished now.
Throughout the process, my mother and my husband made sure I was never alone. They asked questions and helped me. I sat my children down and explained everything to them and hoped they would understand. My son couldn’t imagine at the time how mommy could be sick. That didn’t happen. He was afraid. My daughter was all about the pink ribbon and asked a lot of questions. I teach her about looking out for things in her own body.
The whole experience showed me that I’m a lot stronger than I ever thought I was. It gave me a new reason for living and a new voice. I feel like I can conquer anything now. I feel like there are times in our lives when we let fear cripple us. Now after all I’ve gone through I learned that fear is not real. I don’t have time to play with fear.
When it was all done, I said I gave cancer its eviction notice out of my body and apparently it accepted that. I encourage other women to share their stories if they can because you don’t know who you might help. I was blessed because I had a large village of people who stepped in to help.

Friend’s Advice Proves Life-Saving for Local Breast Cancer Survivor

Posted By on August 15th, 2014 at 8:49 am | 241 comments.

Betty-Fish-PhotoPLBetty Fish, Cumberland County

A fellow Girl Scout leader and I were talking at an event when she told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer through a routine mammogram and she’d had a mastectomy. I had been so busy at work that I hadn’t had a mammogram for a full year. She grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “You have to promise me that tomorrow you will call and set up the appointment.”

I had the mammogram a month later. After my husband and I heard the news that I had DCIS, she was the first person I told, and I thanked her for saving my life.

The phone call confirming the diagnosis came the Monday before Thanksgiving, and I told my children before we drove home to Virginia to visit family. I told them that it’s very early and I’m going to be OK, but I decided not to tell my parents because I didn’t want to worry them. I have three older sisters, and none of them had had a recent mammogram. Just like my friend did for me, I pulled them all aside and said you have to promise me that you’ll make that appointment. They all did, and they were all fine.
I chose to have a mastectomy and had no problems. The weekend after the surgery we planned to go to a museum, and I said, “Let’s go to a dog shelter instead.” My daughter found a Blue Heeler puppy and we all fell in love with him. We adopted him on the spot and named him Ferris. He was the best therapy for everyone in the house. We were all busy concentrating on the puppy, training him, taking care of him, and he got everyone out walking him together. When he would come and lay on my chest at night it felt really good.

Now I bring it up with everyone I talk to … you HAVE to get a mammogram. What if I had put it off another year? My scout leader friend provided tons of support throughout the entire process, giving me suggestions for post-surgery and encouraging me. She’s a true lifesaver!

Betty is Director of Promotion and Public Service at abc27 and lives in Hampden Township, Cumberland County with her husband David, son Billy, daughter Nikki … and Ferris!

Giving Back and Celebrating Life with “Lori’s Loop”

Posted By on July 11th, 2014 at 12:51 pm | 3690 comments.
Lori's-LoopforPL

Survivor Lori Rhinehart, pictured here on the left with her daughter Brooke, hosts the annual Lori’s Loop 5K to benefit the PBCC

On February 26, 2009 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a 1 cm. triple positive lump in my right breast.  Since then that 1 cm. has represented one biopsy, four surgeries, 35 radiation treatments, three scans, 17 Herceptin treatments, four chemo treatments, seven months of baldness, one bone scan, one bone marrow biopsy, countless sleepless nights, seven years of after-care medications, and 20 extra pounds.

The very same 1 cm. lump also represented the push I needed to celebrate life with a cruise to Bermuda and a trip to Germany, to quit smoking, to become a fundraiser and help others, to get healthy by working out and running, to gain a better appreciation of the love and support of my family and friends, and to check an item off my bucket list by organizing Lori’s Loop.

I learned about the PBCC when a friend ordered a Friends Like Me care package for me soon after I was diagnosed. Since then I’ve ordered many more of the friends boxes for others.

I stayed active and jogged a course while I was going through chemo and radiation treatment. I always thought, “One of these days I’ll organize a race and it’ll be on this exact space.” Last October I fulfilled that promise and held the first Annual Lori’s Loop 5K to benefit the PBCC. We had 100 runners which was a great turn-out for a first year event, and we raised $1,500 for the PBCC! We will do it again this year in Haines Acres in York.

I’ve learned to try to make the best of every day. You can’t really appreciate that until you come up against something that’s trying to take that away from you. This is it. You don’t get a reset button or a do-over. I switched jobs and am now working part-time, making a lot less money, and realizing I don’t need as much as I thought I did before. I’m enjoying my time with my husband Terry and my daughter Brooke Voloshin.