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National Spotlight

Financial Resources —Did you know that there are many financial resources that can help people living with breast cancer? Find out more

Survivor Stories

 

Tina Beligotti's Survivor Story

I decided I was going to win.

When I noticed the dimple on my breast, I had no idea it could be cancer.  But I was wrong.  Today I am a five-year survivor.  That’s the happy ending.  But the journey between there and here was a challenge that changed my life.  I am a survivor and this is my story. 

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005.  I noticed a dimple on my right breast which, my doctor told me, indicated a 98% chance of cancer.  My mammogram never showed the lump, but the ultrasound did.  After a needle biopsy, it was confirmed. I felt scared-to-death and numb.  I have eight sisters and no history of breast cancer. Out of all of them, I was the only one who didn’t smoke.  It made no sense. But cancer doesn’t make sense, no matter how hard you try to understand it.

After my diagnosis I was faced with two treatment options:  lumpectomy or mastectomy, and then chemo and/or radiation.  I chose the lumpectomy. Looking back, I wish I had chosen the mastectomy.  My doctor really pushed for a lumpectomy, then chemo and radiation.  Even though I had a 97% cure rate, all I could think about was that I’d be one of the 3%.  So I listened to the doctor and my fears, rather than getting a second opinion and doing more research. 

When I made the decision to have a lumpectomy, four rounds of chemo then 35 days of radiation, I expected a scar and that I would be sick during treatment. But I never knew how deformed my breast would be by the end. That’s the part the doctor never told me.  Today I have a C cup on the left side and an A cup on the right.  If I had had a mastectomy, my insurance would have paid for reconstruction, but they will not pay to repair a deformed breast.

As a survivor, though, I look back on the positives and, yes, there really were some.  One thing that kept me up nights was how I would show my little granddaughter that I had lost my hair.  So I bought a wig.  But rather than reacting negatively, she immediately wanted to try it on!  Anytime I wore a turban, she just had to have one.  Here I had been scared to death to tell her about my hair, and it turned out that she thought it was really cool.  My granddaughter taught me to see the effects of my treatment in a whole new way.

And that’s one of the lessons you learn as a survivor. You never quite know how you or others will respond to the disease.  My sisters backed away from me.  I think they were scared to death. But I also met wonderful new friends along the way.  And finding support was the key for me.  That and my faith got me through.  Both enabled me to fight, fight, fight. And from the beginning, I decided I was going to win.

 

Megan’s Survival Story

“Listen to Your Inner Voice”

I was just going for a routine annual physical. But my appointment turned out to be anything but routine. My doctor scheduled a mammogram because of concerns about a lump she discovered in my right breast. The good news was that that lump wasn’t cancerous. The bad news? They found something in my left breast. Then I got the dreaded call. I needed to come in as soon as possible and, I’ll always remember this … she said, “bring someone along with you.”

My mammogram showed that my left breast had two calcifications. I didn’t know what that meant, but my oncologist explained that calcifications are our body’s way of putting a protective coating around potentially cancerous cells. Right away we talked about treatment options which were a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. My mother died from breast cancer when I was 35, but I still didn’t feel like I knew anything about what cancer was or the best treatments. And in 1999, when I was diagnosed, there weren’t any resources like we have now. Back then, you just did what the doctor told you.

The urgency of it all was so frightening. I ultimately chose to have a lumpectomy which, at that time, was considered the newest treatment option. I felt like I had to test it out for my daughter and granddaughter. The doctor also encouraged me to have a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy, and I think it was the right thing to do. When they removed the lumps, they took cells from the surrounding “margin.” As it turned out, those cells were cancerous too. Overall they had to go into the margin two more times before they found non-cancerous cells.

Today I am an 11-year survivor. During the first five years I had a mammogram every 3 months. Now it’s every 6. But living as a survivor is about more than mammograms. It’s about looking forward and not second guessing my past decisions. It’s about sharing my story, which gives me a feeling of control in this whole process that I never had when going through it. It’s also about helping others. I’m part of a Komen “co-survivor” program where you have the opportunity to work one-on-one with someone battling cancer. They give me a purpose while I offer them strength, hope and advice. I always tell them: use the Komen website, take time to find the right doctors, be around positive people, and always listen to your inner voice.