Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
When I was 28 I found out I have a BRCA mutation, which significantly raised my risk of developing breast cancer. I came to the decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy, especially because my older sister had the BRCA mutation and was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s. I was preparing for my prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction when the doctors saw calcifications in my pre-surgery mammogram – it turned out to be cancer.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I apologized to my father over and over again and he yelled at me and told me to stop apologizing. My older sister Tracy was in in the ICU losing her battle to breast cancer so I felt guilty. We needed to focus on Tracy and now I was causing my family more pain.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
My mastectomy with reconstruction was bumped up a month. I had 7 eggs frozen and a week later I started chemo. I did 6 months and 16 rounds.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I watched my sister do chemo for 9 years so I kind of had an idea of what I was going to feel. Exhausted, nausea. However, I didn’t realize just how easy it would be for me to get infections and other sicknesses since my immune system was so crummy. I had thrush for nearly 2 months. It was awful! But on the mastectomy side, I was amazed and pleased about my reconstruction, because my aesthetic results were excellent and I was able to recover pretty quickly physically. I went to Dr. Andrew Salzberg, the pioneer of a procedure called Direct to Implant reconstruction, in which he is able to bypass using the traditional tissue expanders and a second surgery, so it’s one operation and on to healing and done.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Allow people to help you. When some offers help say YES! You DO NOT need to be wonder woman. It is our first instinct as a cancer fighter to take the fight on and not want to feel like you’re a burden to your loved ones or an inconvenience. I promise you are NOT! Your loved ones WANT to help. If they could take your treatments and do them for you they would. They love you. Let them help. And NEVER GIVE UP HOPE!!!
6. How long have you been cancer free?
This Dec 5th, I will be a 5 year survivor. (knock on wood)
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
To NEVER give up hope and to allow yourself to be taken care of.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Don’t stop fighting, don’t give up hope. And know that there are so many people who love you, who will support you and some who even know exactly what you’re going through. You are NOT alone.
Jamie Pleva of NY was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 29 years old. She also found out she was positive for an inherited BRCA genetic mutation that drastically raises the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Jamie chose a type of bilateral mastectomy called direct to implant, or “one step,” developed by Dr. C. Andrew Salzberg to shorten the breast reconstruction process and enable her to get back to her active life as soon as possible. Fortunately Jamie’s cancer hadn’t spread beyond her breast, but its aggressive nature required post-mastectomy chemotherapy.
Today Jamie is 34, happily married, and actively involved in many breast cancer-related charities, including FORCE (Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered) and Young Survival Coalition – she just completed their annual 3-day Tour de Pink bike ride fundraiser! Jamie also devotes a great deal of time talking with other young women going through their own breast cancer journey.