Survivor Spotlight: Connie Bootz

In May 2023, I was diagnosed with DCIS breast cancer. It was random and detected by my annual mammogram. I felt so blindsided and betrayed by my own body. I was just eight weeks post op to a total knee replacement and was so excited to start living life again. The cancer diagnosis made me feel defeated, alone and so lost. 

I was unprepared for the mental component of my cancer journey. In my experiences, everyone shares the physical component of treatment and the side effects – the surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The mental component wasn’t ever really talked about.

The waiting in between appointments for updates. Constantly checking my health portal for results. It was overwhelming and so very hard. I was unprepared for this and it was difficult to live “life” with so many variables up in the air. There were so many unknowns and each decision hinged on the results from the current test, for example, after my biopsy, I had a breast MRI and concurrent genetic testing to determine my care plan. After my first surgery, it was the time waiting on pathology to determine clear margins. And after a second surgery, waiting on my body to heal and then for more appointments with the medical and radiation oncologists and based on my unique diagnosis, what would my care plan entail.

Seeking support
As I shared my diagnosis with close friends and family, the PA Breast Cancer Coalition was suggested to me very early on. The opens in a new windowFriends Like Me care package set the tone for my journey in the most positive way. The care package came very quickly. My first reaction was – I felt loved – that an organization that didn’t even know me, cared about me and my cancer diagnosis to help me with the most thought-out care package.

The item that really benefitted me the most was the “Pink Ribbon Stories: A Celebration of Life” book. The heartfelt and personal experience stories from others that survived breast cancer made me realize that I was not alone. It was a real page turner, and I finished reading it within a couple of days. The fact that others “got” me and knew exactly what I was feeling and by the sharing of their journeys and their wisdom with each page I read, I was inspired and knew that someday, I would have my own inspiring story to share with others on their cancer journeys. 

My care team was also fabulous and I knew that I would receive quality care with compassion. Everyone along the way listened to me and made me feel like I was their only patient. Each person was perfectly placed in their career, and the timing to have them with me on my cancer journey was miraculous.  

Bright spots
I have always loved making origami cranes. I found breast cancer paper to make lucky origami cranes to give to every person on my care team during my cancer journey. I specially made tons of them during October Breast Cancer Awareness month to give to other patients at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and the Erie Cancer Wellness Center.

I have shared the message of the importance of getting regular mammograms, and have had friends telling me that they have scheduled their mammograms. But the additional “bright spot” is when they see my origami cranes in the various provider offices and they spark discussion that “hey, Connie is my friend who made those”. I’d like to think they bring a smile and ease tensions a bit.

Breast cancer has taught me _____________________.
Breast cancer has taught me to be a better person. To be humble. To be more empathetic and to unconditionally spread kindness. To appreciate everything about life-a life with a cancer diagnosis that doesn’t define me but rather lets me share with others to help them have a better journey, should they receive a cancer diagnosis.

My message to other women
Please, PLEASE share with everyone the importance of regular screening mammograms. Early detection is key. While family history plays a component, so many breast cancers are random. Take control. Be proactive. Spread the word. And should you ever hear the words that no one wants to hear, “You have cancer,” there is a whole sisterhood and resources like the PA Breast Cancer Coalition to help you on your unique cancer journey.