Kelli Mercurio, Monroe County
WHEN WERE YOU DIAGNOSED WITH BREAST CANCER?
I was diagnosed through my very first mammogram in 2010 on my son’s tenth birthday. I’m now celebrating seven years post-diagnosis, so he turned 17 and I turned 7.
I have dense breasts but didn’t know that at the time and it was before the PBCC had the Dense Breast Notification Act passed. At the bottom of the report though the ob/gyn had written a note to have me follow up in six months with a breast specialist. I went to a breast surgeon who said maybe we’ll just do an exam while we’re in the office. She found the lump right away and suggested taking it out to be safe. Two days later I learned it was invasive ductal carcinoma.
WHO SUPPORTED YOU THROUGH YOUR TREATMENT?
Every day I had another reminder that I wasn’t in this alone. A lot of people who had been diagnosed reached out, some without even knowing me that well. A friend sent me the book “The Hat That Saved My Life,” written by two survivors who started Breast Friends in Oregon. My friend Vivian and I felt like there wasn’t enough support in our area and the mission of Breast Friends spoke to us. We opened an affiliate in 2012, providing group support, a volunteer matching program, free hat and wig programs, and other direct services.
WHAT DO YOU WANT OTHER WOMEN TO KNOW?
This can be very isolating and I encourage people to allow themselves to accept help. There is so much power in knowing you’re not alone and finding others who speak your language. Family and friends are great but it’s drastically different when you can sit across the table from someone who knows what you’re experiencing. There’s so much you don’t have to explain.
YOU’VE ATTENDED SEVERAL PBCC CONFERENCES. TELL US ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE.
My business partner Vivian and I started coming to the conference in 2013. Since then we’ve encouraged others to come too because we find so much value in it. We’ve been able to attend with the scholarships which has been very helpful. I love hearing about the PBCC’s strong advocacy with things like the dense breast legislation, what resources there are, and to be able to share that with others afterwards.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHOSE FAMILY MEMBER OR FRIEND IS DIAGNOSED?
Sometimes the patient doesn’t want to share with their family members because they don’t want them to feel bad. But this creates a disconnect. It’s also important for caregivers to feel safe about sharing their experience of caring for someone on a cancer journey. It has a ripple effect; it impacts everyone. I use the term co-survivor and I think that validates what people experience alongside their loved one.
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT WOULD BE LIKE WITHOUT THE PBCC?
Without the PBCC, there would be no voice. You have provided a voice for women who didn’t even necessarily know they needed one. What you do is amazing!