Archive for the ‘Survivor Spotlight’ Category

Survivor Spotlight: Lynne Weber

Posted By on September 16th, 2016 at 8:30 am | 0 comments.

lynne-weber-for-plLynne Weber, Cumberland County

My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer one month before I was. Other than that, we had no family history. I felt like I was sucker-punching my Mom and my Dad, knocking the wind out of them so soon after my sister’s news. Mine was found through a routine screening mammogram in January 2014. Initially I had a lumpectomy but since it had spread to the lymph nodes, rather than stage 1 it was stage 3. I had chemo then a double mastectomy, radiation, and reconstruction.

Throughout treatment I attended a support group and in addition to that had incredible support from friends and family. My mother came out for my surgery, friends came to be with me, and the people at HACC (Harrisburg Area Community College) were flexible and accommodating for my schedule. And once we figured out what I could eat during chemo, my significant other John made sure we always had those foods ready. That was mostly what I called the “white diet,” … mashed potatoes and mild things.

I love to read and to garden and kept that up during treatment. Now that I’m feeling better I like to travel. This summer I went to Romania with a group from HACC. A colleague teaches a course looking at child development in Romania and the students learn about our system compared to theirs. I was able to join them as the second faculty member. It was really powerful for the students, and for me. I was glad to be healthy enough to go.

One interesting thing is that when all my hair fell out, I didn’t really mind being bald. I had wigs and hats and everything but I actually thought being bald was kind of cool. Usually a wore a hat outside because I didn’t want my head to be sunburned but I didn’t feel like I always needed to be wearing a perfect wig. I wasn’t prepared for losing my eyebrows though!

My advice to other women is this: The doctors are doing their job and you have to do yours as a patient. Eat healthy and exercise even if you don’t want to. I made sure I walked and even ran a little bit. Some research has come out indicating that the chemo might even work better if you’re exercising. Going through breast cancer treatment taught me that I’m stronger than I knew I was. When you’re looking at surgery, radiation, more surgery, you can think there’s no way I can go through all that. Now it seems like a long time ago. I’ve learned to value my time and how I spend it.

PBCC Photo Exhibit Participant Stresses Importance of Early Detection, Screenings

Posted By on August 16th, 2016 at 10:07 am | 0 comments.

Dorothy Klyap for PL

Dorothy Klyap, Indiana County

I heard so many horror stories but my story was nothing like that. My regular yearly mammogram found my breast cancer in May 2010 and no one ever wants to hear those words, “you have breast cancer.” What is amazing now is that when I look back on it, it has taught me so much.

After chemo treatment, I couldn’t eat for the first two days but I never got sick. I must really have an angel on my shoulder. My husband Jim attended every one of my treatments with me. Our son who lives in Montana flew home to be with me through my first chemo treatment. Our daughter lives nearby and she’s the one who always pushed me to get mammograms, and she’s the one who brought me meals.

I first learned about the PBCC through my nurse navigator. Since then I was honored to be asked to represent Indiana County in the PBCC’s traveling photo exhibit, along with Maria Swinconis and Mary Waugaman. I was a guest at the 2015 conference and heard the announcement that 3D mammograms are now covered by insurance, and I called to tell my daughter that news right away. Indiana Hospital just got 3D mammograms and I said, “Honey, go get that mammogram!” I learned so much at that conference. There were things I forgot to ask my doctor and I was able to bring home so much medical information.

We live in a beautiful home on 40 acres the woods. There is a property connected to ours with a house that had been empty for over seven years. Sometimes during treatment, I’d go back there and sit on the rickety steps where my husband couldn’t see me crying. I dreamed of owning that house and now I do! I put every bit of paint and wallpaper on it myself. My husband wanted to name it Dorothy’s Dream House but I’m calling it B & J Retreat after my daughter Bridget and son Jimmy. We rent it out by the night or by the week. My beautician is planning to hold meditation classes there.

My favorite things to do are sewing and gardening. I just bought fabric to make drapes for my living room. I have vegetables and flowers in my garden and everyone laughs at this but I love getting on my tractor and mowing the grass. That’s my meditation time. Two weeks from now I’m having knee surgery. The surgeon wanted to have a physical therapist work with me until he heard that my husband and I cut down two big trees on Saturday. He said, “You do enough. You won’t need a therapist.” I don’t stop.

LOL! Laughter is Best Medicine for Dauphin County Survivor

Posted By on July 14th, 2016 at 9:26 am | 0 comments.

Susan Blackstock, Dauphin County

Susan Blackstock Survivor Spotlight for PL

Susan’s workplace, Amerihealth Caritas, hosts a Pink Week which has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the PBCC’s programs and services!

My beautiful sister Janet was a hospice nurse for many years.  She would tell her patients that her sister Susan was the luckiest person she had ever met. That’s because I was doing the unhealthiest thing a person can do. I was smoking when I discovered a lump the size of a baby pea in my breast.

In March 2007 I learned that I had breast cancer.  I might have had a clue about that since it runs in my family, but I truly never thought I’d get it.  My sister Karen says I live with the pixies and that I completely deny anything unpleasant.  That true, but I wasn’t so much in denial that I didn’t get regular mammograms. For years I said it will skip us, my sisters and girl cousins and me, and by the time my nieces get older they will have cured it, but that didn’t happen.  So I learned that I would be living without the two things that entered a room before me since the age of 15.  They were big, and heavy, and incredibly squishy soft; I loved them.  Unfortunately, the girls had to go. I remember standing in the shower the morning of my surgery and washing them for the last time, and I could not visualize what it would be like without them.

I thought I would never leave the house without the fake ones in.  I learned that was wrong too.  Those jokers itch and when you’re healing you don’t want something itchy next to your skin.  So I started going out without them. Suddenly my belly seemed enormous whereas before it, it had provided a kind of resting place for my boobies…I told you they were heavy.  I also learned something really awesome in the process, not wearing a bra is GREAT!!!  Seriously, it rocks.

I learned during that first year that I would assess my life in terms of quality and not longevity and therefore I would not take chemotherapy.  This decision confused and even angered people who love me, but it’s my life and I need to live it as I see fit. It was not because I did not want to lose my hair.  It was because chemo is a horrible thing to go through, and I simply did not want to do it if I did not absolutely have to.

I learned that beauty can be painful with the first step of my reconstruction.  When the expanders went in and I could not roll over to get out of bed, I was freaking out because it hurt like a beast.  I learned that when you cough or sneeze after a procedure like this, you make sure you fold your arms over your chest, covering your new breasts.

I learned that I did not want to be seen as a victim to this thing that invaded my fairy-like existence.  So I chose to ignore the unpleasantness and plow forward.  I talked openly about my situation so others would feel at ease.  If I felt weird about it, they might also.  I asked people if they wanted to feel my chest once the expanders were in; men and women both. I never asked why me, because I already knew the answer.  Why not you Susie baby, why not you?  God does not make mistakes, and bad stuff happens all of the time to people who don’t deserve it.  That is life.  No one’s life is pain free.  Maybe I got it because I had the strength and support to handle it.  God knows why and I don’t need the details.  Suffice it to say, I get a new rack out of the deal that will never sag. So let’s call it a day.

After a while it was my turn to give back.  So I started with some wonderful people in my company, Ameriheath Caritas to raise money for the PBCC.  Every year in October we hold a week of activities called Pink Week to raise awareness and funds for the PBCC. People are very generous and we raise over $5,000 each year! It is my great pleasure to do so because the PBCC is committed to finding a cure.

The most important thing I learned is that I was loved.  I knew I was loved before this happened, but that year all of the love I had in my life leapt on me, threw me down on the bed, and kissed me all over my face. People called me, cooked me a freezer full of meals, sent cards, flowers, and gifts.  They cleaned my house and did my laundry.  They held my hand and changed my dressings.  They kept my dog while I recovered and gave me sick time so I would still get paid.  They laughed with me and held me and told me I was beautiful. You can have a wonderful life after cancer because, if you’re like me, you learn to say what you mean, to do what you say and to know that you need to do what you really want to because life is not a do over, this is it.  You make the most you can out of it while you can.

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.