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Survivor Stories 2013:
Carla Zambelli

1. How did you first find out you had cancer?

I had found a lump, which was not unusual because I have dense breasts and have had all sorts of cysts, ovarian cysts and fibroids since I was about 19. I told my gynochologist Dr. Samantha Pfeifer (Penn but soon to be Cornell in NYC) and she checked the lump and said she was sending me to a surgeon for a look and needle biopsy.

2. How did you react when you heard the news?

I was in my office by myself – at the time I was a Compliance Officer of an SEC entity. It was a Thursday afternoon in late April 2011 and the day before my 30th high school reunion weekend. My surgeon Dr. Dahlia Sataloff (Penn/ PA Hospital) called me from a conference she was attending in Denver, CO (I think) because she did not want a stranger giving me the news. I dropped the F bomb and apologized to my surgeon and when I got off the phone I swear the room seemed to spin for a minute. Then I just sat there a few minutes. Then I decided I was going to be open and positive and just kick this thing and started making calls.

3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?

I was diagnosed with invasive lobular stage 2 BC. My tumor was almost too large for stage 2. Anyway, I had a lumpectomy or partial mastectomy and they took sentinal nodes. I was lucky as all my margins were clean and clear and my Oncotyping low (a 10). I had 7 weeks of radiation under Dr. Marisa Weiss (Lankenau, founder of breastcancer.org), and I am now two years into a five year script for Tamoxifen

4. What most surprised you about your treatment?

Nothing really. I was prepared for it. Well I guess one thing that surprised me is my stitches were so neat I barely have scars. My surgeon is an artist. And if I am honest I guess I surprised myself. I knew I was strong but did not know I was that strong.

5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?

To be positive, and to become informed. Learn your diagnosis and what treatment entails. Ask questions, write things down. Do not do things alone, develop a support system. Journal about your experience or even blog like I did. Remember if you are alive to think about things you are ALIVE period. Do not waste energy on negativity and if people around you are either unsympathetic or negative and depressed for you, jettison them during treatment and be selfish. You have to be selfish to an extent to get through. And treat yourself to mani-pedis and fun things during treatment as rewards. It sounds trite, but just remember YOU CAN DO IT

6. How long have you been cancer free?

A little over 2 years. June 1, 2013 was my second cancerversary.

7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?

Wow. A lot. But learning to have faith and faith in myself and not being afraid to depend on people and being positive were huge learning curves. I was the person before this that everyone else leaned on. I learned to be open and honest so I wasn’t bottling things up. And I learned that truly God never gives us more than we can handle. I believe getting breast cancer freed me from a lot of things and not only gave me a second chance at life but a second chance to try things I had always wanted to try.

8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?

Baby steps. One day at a time. Dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis means you almost have to put your life on a 12 step program. I am not in recovery, but have friends who are and they helped me with this. And it worked. Be positive and have faith.

Carla Zambelli is a freelance writer, blogger and digital photographer who lives in Chester County, PA. You can find her and her musings on the web at www.ihavebreastcancerblog.me and www.chestercountyramblings.com, and her photography can be found at www.simpleshotsphotos.com