By Julia Aquino-Serrano
Pink is synonymous with October and Breast Cancer Awareness. The pink ribbon honors our loved ones and friends who we have lost to breast cancer, the courage of those fighting the battle, and the survivors, many who wonder every day if the cancer will come back. Pink is also a symbol of continued hope and all those who work tirelessly towards a cure. Through the money raised, the research, the medical breakthroughs, and access-for-all to mammograms, the Breast Cancer awareness campaign has saved lives. I believe it saved mine.
My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, when I was 33 (she was 53). I didn’t understand much. She was diagnosed with DCIS (Stage 0), so they recommended a lumpectomy and radiation. Highly treatable, they said. 3 years later, the cancer came back in her breast (Stage 1 – ER and HER2+). More radiation. 2 years later the breast cancer metastasized to her bones, and finally to her lungs. She passed away from metastasis of breast cancer in 2005.
Fast forward to October 2012. I had gone in for my 6-month “surveillance” mammogram, because the doctors were watching a spot in my left breast. Great news…that spot had not changed. However, there was a “troublesome” new spot, and a biopsy was ordered. This was my 3rd biopsy in as many years. I always knew the others were not cancer. And, somehow, my gut told me this time was different.
I remember the call from the surgeon, like it was yesterday. I was walking through Macy’s, buying a breast cancer awareness t-shirt to wear to work the next day – we were having a fundraiser. The phone rang, and it was my doctor’s personal line. I took the call, holding my shirt, stepping out of the checkout line. Hi Julia, , the biopsy results came back, and it is DCIS, Stage 0, which is highly treatable. We’ll know more about treatment after a lumpectomy. My office will call you to set up appointments, run more tests, and get all your questions answered.
The plan, after the lumpectomy, was radiation. After the lumpectomy, it was found that my margins were not clear (which meant they didn’t get all the cancer), there were multiple spots, not just 1, and the cancer was Stage 1, highly aggressive, ER+ and HER2+. It sounded way too familiar.
For me, it was back to the drawing board. And after much research myself, and a second opinion with some of the best doctors at UM Sylvester, the course of action decided was chemotherapy, Herceptin for a year, and a double mastectomy. Besides the advancements in genetic testing, the life-saving drug for me was the Herceptin. Herceptin, which was not available when my sister was diagnosed. It is the drug that helps control the growth of the cancer cells, in HER2+ breast cancer.
I’m in my 9th year of being cancer-free (and I know many others who are survivors) because of the advancements in genetic testing, treatment, and early detection, which are all a result of increased awareness of breast cancer.
We must continue to be grateful for and support the many organizations, like Not My Daughter, who fight tirelessly for continued awareness through fundraising, pink ribbons, events, and meaningful conversation to ensure that everyone has access to mammograms, testing, and treatment and that the research may continue to advance towards an ultimate cure.
Embrace the pink and support awareness. It has changed survival outcomes for so many of us.