Archive for the ‘Survivor Spotlight’ Category

Warren County Survivor: “Don’t Let Cancer Define You”

Posted By on July 16th, 2018 at 2:55 pm | 0 comments.


When and how was your breast cancer survivor diagnosed?

I teach at the Warren Area High School and always have a screening mammogram before the school year begins. After my August 2015 mammogram I was called back for a follow-up and diagnosed the following month with stage 4 breast cancer. It was breast cancer that had already metastasized to my lymph nodes and liver.

Tell us about hearing a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer.
I’m living with it and pray every day but I beat it and I try to keep on beating it. If there’s a recurrence, we’ll deal with it then. Right now I’m cancer free and hope it stays that way. I take an aromatase inhibitor daily but that’s all the treatment at this point. I’m progesterone and estrogen positive and Her-2 negative so I think that helps. I’m metastatic so that means I’m living with it.

I’m grateful for all the research that’s going on. I have a friend who passed away eleven years ago and I often think that if the research was as intense then as it is now she might still be alive.

Who supported you through your diagnosis and treatment?
Number one was my husband Ted. He’s been my rock with all I’ve been through. The whole family has been a strong support.  My daughter Megan and her husband Toby have a little daughter Avery who will be 16 months old. She was born when I was going through all this and was my real bright spot. Toby is in the Air Force stationed in Tampa. My son Hank is marrying his college sweetheart in September. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 2016 after college and played two years in the minor leagues. He’s a personal trainer now working with baseball players, doing what he loves. My sister Barbie and I went through Livestrong at the local YMCA and she was my support through that. And I have my parents who are 89 and 85 years old and going strong and living just five minutes away from me. Warren is very small so all my colleagues in the town were supportive. Above all else is my faith. It’s so important.

How did you come to know about the PA Breast Cancer Coalition?
A woman who taught at our high school is now working at the Warren Public Library. She reached out to me and told me about the traveling photo exhibit, and asked if I would like to speak at the exhibit’s opening reception there at the library. I hadn’t heard of the PBCC before but now I have learned so much about it from reading the website. I love that you’re funding research and creating awareness and making sure that there is always a way for a woman to get a mammogram. Everyone should be able to get a mammogram, to get treatment, and you should be able to go to the best places.

 How you might complete this sentence: “Without the PBCC, ______”
Without the PBCC, it seems that many women would not have the chance for early detection with a yearly mammogram.

What advice would you offer to someone whose friend or family member has been diagnosed with breast cancer?
Don’t allow cancer to define them. I’m a mother, wife, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, fighter, and a survivor. I won’t let cancer define who I am.

 

 

Survivor Spotlight: Tori Wilt, Huntingdon County

Posted By on May 4th, 2018 at 3:10 pm | 0 comments.


Meet Tori Wilt, Huntingdon County

Tori was a 34-year-old single mom when she was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer. While in treatment, she met her now-husband, got married and had their “miracle” baby. Tori is a fighter, thriver, and survivor. This is her amazing story.

Tell us about your breast cancer journey…

In January 2013, I felt a lump while adjusting my bra but cancer didn’t even occur to me at the time. That March, my Dad, who was a one-year prostate cancer survivor, sent me an email about breast cancer being on the rise. Within a week, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma.

“On May 22, we got married and I had my 20-week ultrasound. We went to the courthouse, got in the car, drove to Pittsburgh and had the ultrasound to make sure everything was OK… and it was. I said ‘OK, here we go.’”

I had six rounds of chemo, 11 rounds of Herceptin and had a bi-lateral mastectomy in August 2013, and then I met my now-husband. We didn’t think I could have children, but I got pregnant after the mastectomy, so I had to put the Herceptin treatment on hold. A few doctors suggested I shouldn’t go through with the pregnancy, that it was high risk. My daughter Finley was born in October 2014 and then I started Herceptin again.

Did you have a lot of support?

Tori with her husband Ryan, son Evan and daughter Finley

Yes! My parents and my co-workers were very supportive.

You came to the PBCC with a specific concern. What was it?

I started a Facebook group called Pink Sisters in Christ. And just from communicating with people on there, I discovered that I wasn’t the only one whose eyebrows never grew back after chemotherapy. Some mentioned losing eyelashes too. I draw them in every day but microblading is a very effective way to put them back on. The cost varies by area and can run anywhere between $300 and $400.

What do you hope to see happen?

My goal would be for there to be an option for women or men who choose to have this done to have at least a portion of the cost covered by insurance.

What do you want other women to know?

Cancer doesn’t discriminate. I never thought at 34 years old I’d feel a tumor. I do think there are some things we can do. My doctor advised me to leave my counseling career behind because it was too stressful. I now work for a company that manufactures nontoxic products, and I educate women about inflammation in the body caused by stress, processed foods, and even where you live in the country.

Do you have advice for someone whose friend or family member is diagnosed? 

Be respectful of the range of emotions they are going to go through. A lot of women tell me they are happy one minute and enraged the next. Be part of a supportive environment to accept those range of emotions. And remember that every journey is different. What’s important to one is not to another.

 

 

Monroe County Survivor Inspired to Found Support Group

Posted By on April 13th, 2018 at 4:02 pm | 0 comments.

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!

“I was 25 years old at the time.” Young Survivor Fights on, Pursues Doctoral Degree in Public Health

Posted By on February 20th, 2018 at 12:18 pm | 0 comments.

Natasha Renee Burse, Dauphin County
Diagnosed in 2015

When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?

In the summer of 2015. I felt a lump in my breast and went to my family physician for a clinical breast exam. She referred me to a surgeon, then the surgeon ordered an ultrasound and mammogram.  The results showed a tumor and she thought it might be fibro adenoma because of my age.

Why? What was your age?

I was 25 years old at the time.

What happened next? What was your treatment?

The surgeon asked me what I wanted to do, either a needle biopsy or a surgical biopsy. I chose the surgical biopsy for two reasons. I am from Dallas, Texas and was headed to Pennsylvania to pursue a Ph.D. at Pennsylvania State University.

The second reason was that I didn’t want to be awake during the procedure. In June 2015 I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 2. I went to one hospital for diagnosis and a different hospital for treatment.

I had six rounds of chemo, then a double mastectomy, and after that I went through immunotherapy. I chose a double mastectomy because I had a genetic mutation p53. All this went from December 2015 all the way to August 2016 in Texas and then I started school at Penn State in August 2016.

What are you doing currently at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey?

I transferred a doctoral degree in public health at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey in August 2017. My mentor is Dr. Kathryn Schmitz and she’s the reason I transferred here. She’s an exercise interventionist and promotes exercise to limit the side effects of chemotherapy.

Who supported your throughout your treatment process?

The support was multi-faceted, both through the Affordable Care Act and my dad’s insurance during treatment. When I turned 26 in August I got different coverage but the hospital wasn’t accepting my insurance. My friends and family covered some of my expenses via GoFundMe. My mom was my primary caregiver and she devoted everything to getting me better.

How did you come to know about the PA Breast Cancer Coalition?

I was heading to the Broad Street Market in Harrisburg and saw a sign outside the Hilton. I went to the PBCC website and found all the information I needed there.

What was your experience like at the 2017 PBCC Conference?

I applied for a scholarship to the conference. I wouldn’t have been able to come otherwise. I gained so many insights! Dr. Cliff Hudis gave a really great presentation on obesity, breast cancer, and inflammation. I liked how he talked about post-menopausal women who might be obese at diagnosis and may have worse outcomes later and increased inflammation. It’s such an important thing to talk about. We don’t really know if obesity affects the whole cancer continuum from diagnosis to survivorship. It may contribute to all of it. It was cool being there and meeting so many survivors.

Is there something you’d like other women to learn from your story?

The more information you have, the better. Be aware of any changes. I tell people to stay active. The CDC recommends that adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. That breaks down to 30 minutes a day for five days a week.

Do you have any advice for someone whose friend or loved one is diagnosed?

Yes. My mom was involved and knew what was going on and was patient with the process and asked a lot of questions. Educate yourself about the topic and find healthy foods to prepare for the patient. Make sure the patient is not sitting around too much, go for a walk with them. Reach out to others who are going through the same thing, maybe with a support group for caregivers.

 

 

 

 

“Let’s Get This Party Started” Fearless Philadelphia Breast Cancer Survivor Faces New Battle

Posted By on February 2nd, 2018 at 9:20 am | 0 comments.

 

Glynis Rhodes, Philadelphia
Diagnosed in 2007

HOW WAS YOUR BREAST CANCER FOUND?
That was with a regular annual mammogram in 2007. I had a lumpectomy and chemo and radiation. I’d been doing well until October 22, 2017 when I diagnosed with uterine cancer which we think may have been a result of some of the chemotherapy drugs. I’m back in chemo but this time it will be every week for 18 weeks with lower doses of chemo. That’ll be better on my body, easier to tolerate. With both diagnoses, whatever the doctor said … boom, boom, boom, I said let’s get this party started.

WHO SUPPORTED YOU THROUGH YOUR JOURNEY?
I had all the support in the world! My mother came and stayed with me for nine months, which was one of the best times of my entire life. We were always close, but being a grown-up and having my mother take care of me made me fall in love with her all over again. My Jehovah’s Witness congregation and my friends not only brought food and treats but also flowers for my mom. They would come and sit with me so she could go out and still do things like get her hair done. The staff at Hahnemann Hospital was phenomenal. I’ve been with them for ten years now and they’ve become like family. When I got my chemo schedule I sent it out and I have a different person going to each appointment from January through April with me.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST KNOW ABOUT THE PBCC?
The oncology social worker at the hospital put me in touch with Living Beyond Breast Cancer and some of the women I met there introduced me to the PA Breast Cancer Coalition. My first PBCC conferences were in 2016 and 2017 and I received scholarships both years. I wouldn’t have been able to come otherwise. The first year I wore a little pink and black tutu to the Pink Party and I won the costume contest!

TELL US WHAT YOU LIKED MOST ABOUT THE CONFERENCE.
The speakers were knowledgeable but presented the information in a way that wasn’t over your head. There were topics you could use in your everyday life. I could go home and feel like I absorbed everything and would be able to share it.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU GIVE OTHER WOMEN?
It’s important to talk and it’s important to listen. Do not let anyone rob you of how you feel and don’t let anyone else put their story on you. We need to watch what we say to one another. My hair never grew back and every once in a while someone will say that it’s the style now. I don’t want to hear that it’s the style. When it’s not your choice, it’s not a style. And don’t tell me I have a beautiful head. I want hair on top of it like yours.

DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHOSE FRIEND OR LOVED ONE IS DIAGNOSED?
It’s not rocket science but you can move mountains when you try. If you’re miles away, send them a card to let them know you’re there for them. Or send them a little gift card that they can use to put gas in their car. I even needed people to read to me because one of the medications made my eyes too watery to read. A little tenderness and thoughtfulness will go a long way.

WHAT IF THE PBCC DIDN’T EXIST?
People would die. Plain and simple. You offer lifesaving programs and information about mammograms and coverage for treatment that people wouldn’t even know about otherwise.

Snyder County Survivor Finds Joy in Helping Others Across Country

Posted By on July 31st, 2017 at 3:29 pm | 0 comments.

Mary Jo Borrelli, Snyder County

After a family celebration in August 2000 at Shenandoah National Park, I needed antibiotics for insect bites. I thought I had an inflamed insect bite under one arm and went to my doctor who said let’s do a mammogram. It turned out that I had a tumor on the outside of the left breast.  I opted for sentinel node biopsy, lumpectomy, and pre-adjuvant therapy with andriamycin.

I’ve been dutifully getting mammograms and this past year was in survivor mode. My sister has an ascending aortic aneurism and I thought I should pay attention and have tests for that. The radiologist found something on my spine. After almost 17 years, breast cancer has come to my spine. I’m now in the METAMORPH study at Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania. The study examines markers in blood, bone marrow, and tumor tissue to understand and track the changes that occur as disease progresses.

I first learned about the PBCC when some newly diagnosed friends were going to the October conference. They had a real hunger to learn more about breast cancer. Without the PBCC, many women would not know the treatment options available to them. I worked for the Department of Public Welfare for my whole career and I know how difficult it is for women to access information and care, and to advocate for themselves.

When I retired from the state, I became a disaster reservist for the U.S. Small Business Administration. I was able to help businesses and homeowners recover from disasters like Hurricane Sandy. It’s a great experience, helping people and seeing so much of our beautiful country while doing it. I’m on a very regular treatment schedule now, which will be once a month starting in August, and my medical team is optimistic I’ll soon be able to return to that disaster reservist work! Meanwhile, I enjoy my beautiful garden around my house, and my two little Maltese dogs who were rescues.

Philadelphia Survivor, PBCC Conference Attendee “Blessed” by Breast Cancer

Posted By on June 16th, 2017 at 10:49 am | 0 comments.

When I heard the words “triple negative breast cancer,” I had no idea what they meant. Because of my faith though, I soon decided that for me it means triple positive faith. I felt I was triple positively blessed by the Holy Trinity … Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I was diagnosed with a routine mammogram in 2010 and then had a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation.

I had the best support team ever with my children, my friends, and family. After about a year, I joined the Cancer Support Community of Philadelphia and met Yvonne McLean Florence and Sarita Joy Jordan there. They both told me about the PBCC, and Yvonne invited me to join her at the PBCC conference in 2015. I enjoyed the conference so much, especially when they announced at the luncheon that 3D mammograms would be covered by insurance. That was a “wow” moment! I was also glad to be able to meet Dr. Edith Mitchell, and to hear about her research on triple negative breast cancer. That is another reason I like the PBCC, because of the research.

Going through breast cancer made me a much stronger person. I have always been the quiet, shy one. This seemed to bring me out of my shell because I learned you could be a positive force in someone else’s life. I want other women to know that this is not your battle. You have to trust and believe that cancer is not a death sentence. You can keep going and keep moving. They will continue to find new treatments and it will be OK.

Without the PBCC, there would be so many people struggling to get mammograms now. Also, 3D mammograms still would not be covered by insurance in Pennsylvania. Without the PBCC, we would be back in the stone age.

Praise Worthy Creations and Events honored Gloria with the Sarita Joy Strength Award at their annual Pink Tea in April. Yvonne was one of the recipients last year and this year the award was renamed to honor the memory of Sarita Joy Jordan, who represented Philadelphia in the PBCC traveling photo exhibit.

Care Package Provides Comfort for Allegheny County Survivor

Posted By on April 17th, 2017 at 9:20 am | 0 comments.

Betty Davis-Smith, Allegheny County
Diagnosed in 2016

When I was putting together a luncheon at my church to make other women aware of breast cancer issues, my daughter offered to help find literature for the event. She called the PA Breast Cancer Coalition and you sent me out the Friends Like Me care package. I could not imagine anyone going to all the trouble to put that together with such nice gift items and great educational materials. The basic information was easy to understand and helped me to decipher all the terminology. I particularly loved that there was a book for the spouse. The PBCC really thought of everything!

I had a double mastectomy in May 2016, and chemo and radiation. I was treated at Allegheny General Hospital and they did a great job. The hospital had a nurse navigator who answered all my questions and told me what to expect all along the way. When you finish chemo, they give you a little graduation certificate. People are just doing their jobs and don’t really have to go out of their way to stop and think about their patients in that way. They made it special. I also had tremendous support from church members and my pastor. I have belonged to a prayer group for about eight years so there was no shortage of people praying for me. I learned that I could do anything through Jesus Christ who strengthens me. I didn’t do anything by myself.

My husband Jessie and I have two daughters. We love to travel, go out to dinners, and to plays and concerts.

I want other women to know that you can survive this. Breast cancer is not the death sentence it once was. There are amazing advances in breast cancer treatment now. And we have the support of the PBCC. Without the PBCC, women might not know what is available to them in terms of information and support.