Barbara Fox, Lebanon County
1. You are a proud stage III survivor. How did you first learn of your breast cancer diagnosis?
I went to my family doctor because I had some swelling in the right side of my chest, under my arm. I knew I had a lump in my breast, but I assumed it was a cyst. I was busy and it was hard to get off work for such a thing like a mammogram. I never thought I would get cancer. At my appointment, a mammogram was scheduled because I had missed one the previous year. After that mammogram was done, they immediately performed a biopsy and I waited for results… knowing it was cancer, but waiting for confirmation.
2. What was your treatment journey like?
I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Triple-negative breast cancer. After the whirlwind of tests and 8 months of treatment, my daughter, Rachel, summed it up best in a Facebook post, “4 months of chemo, 12-hours of surgery, 5 weeks of radiation, a stage 4 scare, a positive BRCA2 gene, a couple battle scars, and 2 new boobs later… SHE’S DONE WITH TREATMENT!!!!” What was it like? Exhausting. Until that moment, that diagnosis, I was always pushing myself and moving forward. I was a single mom. I then leaned on my daughter, my son, friends and family. It was a lesson in many ways. I had phenomenal doctors and amazing people surrounded me.
3. Do you have a family history of breast cancer?
I was the first to be diagnosed with breast cancer in my family. After chemo was finished, it was recommended to have the genetic testing. I agreed and was still waiting for the test results when my daughter, Rachel, and I met with my surgeon to discuss surgery options. After a long discussion, the doctor went to find the results, since I hadn’t been notified. It mattered. She came back to tell us I was BRCA 2 positive. For me, that meant a bilateral mastectomy. I had my bilateral mastectomy on January 2, 2017. After recovery I started radiation the very beginning of March.
My mother called a family meeting on April 2nd, the day before my final day of radiation and my final day of treatment. She told us she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2016. She chose not to tell the family and decided on holistic treatments. She will be 81 in October. She is not cured, but is doing well. My sister and niece are also positive for the gene.
4. You mentioned that you have a daughter who has not yet been tested, but is considered high-risk due to your family history. We’re working on a second piece of legislation right now, Senate Bill 1225, that would eliminate out-of-pocket costs (co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance) of breast MRIs and ultrasounds for women at high-risk like you and your daughter. Why should our lawmakers support this legislation?
A delay in diagnosis can be deadly. Early diagnosis truly gives best odds and is most cost effective. A financial hardship is NOT a viable reason someone should lose their daughter, mother or grandmother.
5. What would it mean for you and your family if Senate Bill 1225 passed?
It would mean that until there is a cure, my daughter, my sister, my nieces, and all those family members to come will ALWAYS have the opportunity for early detection through testing no matter what their financial situation. They will know early if they are required to fight this battle and early detection will give them the best odds of winning the fight.
6. I loved seeing the quote on your website – “I believe we all have a gift and this is mine.” How are you now using your gifts following treatment for other survivors?
I opened Confidence Inked Scar Camouflage and Areola Tattooing in Lebanon! I have always been an artist and painter. After my cancer treatment was complete, I saw a video for scar camouflage and that led to me find areola tattooing. I have spent the last 3 years being tattooed by the worst, which lead me on my own quest of perfecting techniques, learning how to do the best, most realistic areola tattoo from amazing professionals who are now my mentors. For me, this is simply a different medium. I now create art with tattoo inks and a tattoo machine instead of paints and canvas. It’s incredible work! I question the quality of things I was taught early in my training. Some people, with the best intensions, are not able to produce a realistic quality of work that survivors deserve. If you decide to have a tattoo as a mastectomy recipient, please review the artist’s portfolio before assuming they will be able to provide you with the quality you deserve.
7. What has breast cancer taught you?
This is an amazing life full of surprises. You never know what is next and what will come from of it. I never considered tattooing until now, and it is because of my cancer journey. I finally found how my artist ability can truly help others heal!
8. If you could pass along a piece of advice to women facing breast cancer, what would you say?
Attitude is everything. Keep your eye on the ball and only look as far ahead as you can handle. This is your game. If it’s the next test, get through that. If it’s the next treatment, that’s it. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Please speak up. It literally saved my life – that’s the stage 4 scare my daughter mentioned.