Archive for the ‘Survivor Spotlight’ Category

Perry County Survivor Driven to Help Others

Posted By on September 16th, 2015 at 8:27 am | 0 comments.

helen-michener-for-plHelen Michener, Perry County

I spent most of my nursing career in pediatrics but occasionally would also moonlight a few shifts a week in oncology. I decided then and there that if breast cancer ever happened to me I would have a mastectomy to feel like the cancer was gone. It DID happen to me. And my life changed forever.

My routine mammogram in October 2013 revealed areas of calcification that weren’t there the year before. I was very lucky that it hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes and it was in the early stage. I didn’t need chemo or radiation after the surgery and I’m taking tamoxifen for five years.

I feel like I breezed through it physically, but not emotionally. It changes your life. At first I wanted to just forget about it and not tell people because I didn’t want it to define me. I learned though how to integrate breast cancer into who I am rather than integrating myself into breast cancer. One of the ways I did that was to embrace the community I’m now part of with the PBCC. I visited Kristen Snoke, PBCC Community Outreach Director to discuss how I could help. It seemed like raising funds through grassroots efforts would be a good fit for me. I created a wine-tasting event, Toasting for a Cure at the Vineyard in the spring and we made $8,355. I now know that that’s very good for a first-time effort. I’m planning a fall fundraiser called Drive Out Breast Cancer, and hope to get car dealerships to donate $25 for every new car they sell throughout the month of October.

My husband Bob and I live in an intentional community of seven families who own a 140-acre farm together. It was a great place to raise our children. We have a son and a daughter and two granddaughters. My granddaughter Amelia was ten years old when I was diagnosed and she said, “You talked to Mommy for a long time and now she’s sad. Breast cancer, that’s bad, isn’t it?” I told her, “No, honey, it doesn’t have to be.” Amelia and Kasey are both part of Art Symphony for a Cause and make crafts they sell for nonprofits. They came to the wine tasting and made $170 to donate to the PBCC. The PBCC tagline “finding a cure for breast cancer now … so our daughters won’t have to” really speaks to my heart.

Luzerne County Survivor Diagnosed at 38, Finds New Lease on Life After Breast Cancer

Posted By on August 17th, 2015 at 9:15 am | 0 comments.

Melissa Cole for PLMelissa Cole – Luzerne County

My husband Mike and I were in the process of moving in with his parents. I was loading books into a crate and bruised my chest wall. When the pain didn’t go away after a while, my husband was checking the bruise and said “Do you know you have a lump in your breast?”

I was 38 years old and had done breast self-exam regularly but hadn’t found this lump. It was deeper than I could feel but the injury may have pushed it forward. I had chest X-rays done and the doctor said you need to have a mammogram.
I went to Geisinger Women’s Imaging Center and learned I have dense breast tissue. I had a lumpectomy, 33 radiation treatments and then went on anastrozole.
My family was very supportive. We were up front with our 12 year-old son Chase. He understood and was there to help me whenever I needed him. I teach toddlers at Little Meadows Learning Center and my co-workers brought us food and helped with gas money. To this day, my friends still check on me.
My friend Barb Bowman had been diagnosed with breast cancer before me and she encouraged me to go to the PBCC Conference. She said it would help me to learn how to move forward and live my life. That conference was amazing! The classes were great; I feel like I learned so much. The vendors were a big help too. I wasn’t sure at that time if I’d have to have a mastectomy and at the conference I was able to see and feel a prosthesis and know what it would be like if I had a mastectomy and didn’t have reconstruction.
Now I tell other women not to be afraid to go to the doctor if you find something. It’s important. It took cancer to settle me down but now I know my life is my life and I’m going to live it the way I need to. I’m living a happier life.
FAVORITE QUOTE: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

PBCC Conference Attendee Thankful for Strong Support System

Posted By on July 15th, 2015 at 11:06 am | 0 comments.

Jodi-Heagy-for-PLJodi Heagy, Lebanon County

I have always had a collection of dogs. At this time I have two small Jack Russell pugs, a pit bull mix, and a chocolate lab. In September 2013 our wonderful, lovely, good and gentle Doberman passed away and I was very upset. I wasn’t getting anything done the way I usually did, like my mammogram. I always go for a screening mammogram during October, my birthday month but I was still too upset and didn’t get around to it until three months later.

That mammogram revealed a fully involved tumor of less than three centimeters that would have grown aggressively. It was stage 1, HER2/neu positive with no lymph node involvement. They tell you it’s cancer and then you’re on a fast-moving train and your journey begins. I had a lumpectomy in February 2014, six rounds of chemotherapy, 30 radiation treatments, and a year of Herceptin treatment. After that was all said and done, I had genetic testing which came back BRCA2 positive. So now this summer I had my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, and in October I will undergo a bilateral mastectomy with tram flap reconstruction.

My support system is incredible. My husband was the calm in the middle of the storm. I got emotional at times but he remained even-keeled and said we’re going to make it through this together. My sons were there for whatever I needed. I work as a secretary in the Lebanon School District and everyone I worked with was supportive, including the little elementary school kids.

During my first chemo treatment at Good Samaritan Hospital I learned about the PBCC and ordered my Friends Like Me care package. I read all the books and absorbed all the great information. Then I received an invitation to attend the Conference! I was so humbled to be there with all those brave women, so amazing, continuing on with their jobs and families. My favorite part was the speech and workshop presented by Lillie Shockney from Johns Hopkins. She impressed me the most and I bought her book “Stealing Second Base.” I loved seeing all the vendors too. I’m planning to go again this year with members of my support group from Good Samaritan. I go to support group every month because someone who has shared that experience can understand you best on the good days, and on the bad days.

Strong Foundation and Faith Helps Erie Survivor Stay Positive

Posted By on June 15th, 2015 at 8:34 am | 0 comments.

bettylouperkins2BettyLou Perkins, Erie County

I never felt a lump and neither did my doctor, but when I had my annual mammogram on October 20, 2014, they found a little 5 mil. spot. I’ve always been faithful in getting that annual mammogram.
I had a biopsy and then on December 4th they phoned the results to me and confirmed that I had invasive lobular breast cancer. My first thought was “Merry Christmas!” But then I thought well, it is what it is and you have to do what you have to do and you’re going to beat this.
The appointment with the breast surgeon was lengthy. There was so much information to try to comprehend, but after you hear the word “cancer” your mind just kind of stops. It’s like trying to digest a whole buffet.
Then they recommended an MRI because sometimes there are other spots and you could miss that with the lumpectomy and the MRI did find another spot. The first one was at 1 or 2 o’clock and the second one was closer to the nipple.
January was spent waiting for the breast surgeon and plastic surgeon’s schedules to get coordinated. You know you have cancer, you know you have to have surgery, and then you have to just wait.
My mother was a colon cancer survivor and she was my inspiration while I was going through chemo. Whenever I thought I couldn’t do it, she would say “I know what you’re saying and I felt that way too. I did it at 81 years old and so can you.” I’m sad to say that she passed away a few weeks ago but she was 88 and she had a great life.
I’m a registered nurse and work in labor and delivery at UPMC Hamot. I started there on June 4, 1979 and 35 of those years have been in labor and delivery. I get to see a miracle every day!
I tell everyone to get that mammogram! Someone recently said to me that they were a little overdue for one, probably about a year overdue. I said when we are finished talking you’ll be calling to schedule it. If one woman can be saved by me telling her to get a mammogram, it’s worth everything to me. Hopefully even more than one will. My only other advice is to keep a positive attitude and if you don’t have a faith, get a faith. Your faith will get you through. You can’t do this all by yourself.

32-Year Survivor Looks Back, Shares Advice to Young Women

Posted By on May 15th, 2015 at 8:30 am | 0 comments.

Doris Rogers, Wayne County

Things have changed a bit since I was diagnosed with breast cancer 32 yDoris-Rogers-for-PLears ago. Now they do radiation, and I don’t think that was prevalent then. I had a lump that I found myself and I watched it for a few months. I had a mastectomy on December 30, 1982, and a month later I started on chemotherapy. I took methotrexate and cytoxan, and then tamoxifen for five years. I was in a study with the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group.

At that time my husband Bill and I had a variety store on Main Street. I like numbers and I did all the bookwork for the store, which we owned for 22 years. We had five children and 10 grandchildren.  I’ll be 87 years old in a few weeks. My daughters are very aware and I know they get their mammograms on time. They always did.
For fun and relaxation, I like to do crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, read, and watch movies on TV. I’ve been a member of the Women’s Club of Honesdale now for 60 years. We have a big antique show and I serve as treasurer of that. And I volunteer at the gift shop of the hospital auxiliary. I’m treasurer of the Wayne Memorial Hospital gift shop. When the Women’s Club of Honesdale started in 1939 we had 200 people who met in the afternoons and the ladies came to the meetings in hats and white gloves.
Now, I would advise anyone, not just breast cancer survivors, to keep busy and get involved.
I’m happy to represent Wayne County in the PBCC photo exhibit. My daughters have gone to different locations where it’s been displayed and I think they are proud to see me in it.

Erie Survivor Moved to Make a Difference Through Love of Music

Posted By on April 15th, 2015 at 8:38 am | 1512 comments.


Elisa Guida, Erie County

I’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 | 818 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 | 939 comments.

JaynetteSurvivorStoryforPLJaynette Brown, Fayette County

Well, 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!