Standing up to Breast Cancer with Susan & Janice
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month we reached out to our Hayes & Fisk Family and asked if there was anyone that would be interested in sharing their story in hopes of raising awareness for this great cause.
We were thrilled when Susan answered our call and said that she would be willing to share her story. We soon found out that it is not just her story but her sister also battled Breast Cancer as well.
Right away we set up a phone interview so we could learn about their story. Then we scheduled Lou Steven’s Glam Squad to come to the studio and glam them up for a very special portrait session.
Here is Susan and Janice’s Story:
We started our conversation with Susan’s story…
Susan shared that she had mammograms done every year. Also, her mother was a volunteer for the American Cancer Society for many years. However, despite her knowledge and her yearly checkups she was diagnosed at 45 years old, in August of 2008.
Susan told us that it started with a sharp pain in her right breast. She explained that it was a pain that was not normal. She shared this with her husband and he encouraged her to get it checked out. So three days later she went in to get it looked at.
Her mammogram was clear but they saw a faint shadow during the ultrasound so they sent her for a biopsy. The biopsy showed that she did in fact have Breast Cancer. However, this wasn’t the “typical” breast cancer that you hear about, she had Lobular Breast Cancer. This is a different kind of cancer, it doesn’t look like the typical breast cancer so it is harder to diagnose. Lobular Breast Cancer is called the “sneaky cancer” because it grows in strands and then connects like a spider web. Also it is the glands, not the ducts. This type of cancer makes up less than 10% of all breast cancer.
Once she had the official diagnosis they went into action quickly. They had a friend that had gone through this so she reached out to Vivian. Then Susan went and got a 2nd, 3rd and 4th opinion. Susan and Janice are both pharmaceutical reps so they know a lot about the medical field and they used that knowledge to make the best decisions possible. Susan knew she wanted to go to the best hospitals so she went straight to New York. She started at NYU, then Cornell and finally Memorial Sloan Kettering – with her parents, sister and Vivian in tow.
She decided on Sloan Kettering and she was eager to get started. They did a PET Scan which came out clear so they scheduled the surgery for September 10th. Susan decided to have a Bi-Lateral Mastectomy with reconstruction.
Her parents lived on Long Island so she stayed with them for three weeks after the surgery and let them mend her back to health. Also her sister, Janice stayed for the first week to offer some comic relief.
Susan told us that there was a support group at the hospital but she wasn’t up for attending so her mother and sister went in her place. But they end they were leading the group.
We really loved hearing how supportive Susan’s family was during this whole process. Her sister added the laughter and her whole family was there for constant support.
After resting at her parents for three weeks she headed back to Richmond to be with her 5 year old daughter and husband.
As she drove through her neighborhood the streets were lined with pink balloons and pink ribbon magnets on the mailboxes…at that very moment she thought someone had baby. She didn’t realize it was all for her.
Once back in Richmond, she had Chemo at VCU Massey Cancer Center. She shared with us a funny story of her mother, sister and herself going to the wig store. Her sister turned it into a funny experience and of course had to poke a little fun.
Her very supportive neighbors even joined in “the fun” and helped Susan shave her head. She joked that this saved her 45 minutes a day from having to do her hair.
In March of 2009 she headed back to New York for the reconstruction phase of her surgery.
Now it has been seven years and all is good!
Now for Janice’s story….
Just like Susan, Janice had a mammogram done every year. However, after her sister’s diagnosis she went in for a MRI.
In October 2008 they called and said there is a little spot, nothing big so come back in six months.
Then in August 2009 she felt a strong pain in her right breast, just like Susan had felt. She went back to the doctor and was diagnosed with Stage 1 Lobular Cancer….exactly what her sister had.
After all of the research they did for Susan she knew that she was going to take the exact same path so they scheduled the same procedure for October.
However, they were thrown a curve ball once the PET Scan was done. This scan showed that it was actually Stage 4 and the cancer had spread to her bones. This indicated that it had been there a long time and missed by several doctors. However, she didn’t place blame, she accepted it as bad luck and moved forward with a different course of action.
A mastectomy was not needed because the cancer had already spread. The doctor described it as “the horse has already left the building barn”. There would be no surgery and no chemo. Instead she was started on targeted therapy where they use certain medications to block the estrogen that is causing the cancer to grow. Janice also had her ovaries removed to lower the levels of estrogen in her body.
Her therapy also includes radiation and an infusion to treat the bones because the cancer in her bones causes her lots of pain.
Then Janice fell in the bathroom and broke her pelvis. They also found lots of tumors in her bones but most stopped growing after she started the medication. However, there was one in her left hip that continued to grow and cause a lot of pain.
The doctors let her know that her cancer will never go into remission, they will just continue to “control it”.
At this point Janice went back to work because she needed some normalcy in her life. She wanted to show her children that things were okay.
Then one day she was entering a doctor’s office and she couldn’t walk…her hip collapsed and she would need a hip replacement. So now she was out for another six months. At this point she realized she couldn’t do her job effectively anymore. She filed for disability.
So now she continues to battle the issues with her bones. The tumor is actually gone in her breast, but the tumors in her bones cause her to hurt every day. Today the doctors focus her therapy on keeping the cancer out of Janice’s organs because it can sit in the bones forever.
From the outside you wouldn’t know what Janice is going through but she feels it on a daily basis. She lives her life to the fullest and enjoys everyday and continues to provide comic relief.
From Susan and Janice…
Bottom line: Read lots of things and talk to lots of doctors. They also truly believe that 30% of the battle is in your head…you have to stay positive and truly believe that you are going to beat the cancer.
Pharmaceutical companies are coming out with new medicines and treatments every day. They are getting results and the research is working.
They also encourage people to listen to the doctors. Tell them you, as the patient, don’t want to choose, you want their opinion, they are the experts. Remember the doctors are the ones with the knowledge.
Janice and Susan both say that they got by with lots of humor and good decisions.
They also mentioned to fight for a PET Scan. Many doctors won’t automatically do one and sometimes you have to fight with your insurance to pay for it but it is a key part in deciding what your therapy should be. A PET Scan can truly be the difference between surviving and not.
I asked each of them of if there was one last thing they would like to share.
From Susan: “When I got the call my daughter was standing there so I had to be strong. Once I got in the car I was yelling and cursing but then I gained a sense of empowerment. I decided I was going to beat this. I knew I needed to be strong.”
From Janice: “You can’t sit in the corner and beat cancer. Your only choice should be to battle it head on. You don’t want to have to go back again, hit it hard the first time”
They both also highly recommend the book: “There’s No Place Like Hope: A Guide to Beating Cancer in Mind-sized Bites”
In conclusion, we encourage women to get your yearly mammogram and do your self examinations. And if one day you are faced with battling Breast Cancer choose to fight!