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You can Survive and Thrive.

In 2006, I was attending Lewis University near Chicago, working on a bachelor’s degree in business and only one year away from graduation.

During a routine mammogram and ultrasound, a spot was found on my right breast. A biopsy found stage 0 breast cancer, where cancer cells are contained in the part of the breast where they started. I attended classes with stitches and pain, determined to finish my degree. Then in 2007, my job in operations administration was eliminated. By 2008, I was working as logistics assistant, but in 2009, my job ended due to a company-wide downsizing. Again, I networked, attended career workshops, enrolled with employment agencies and interviewed.

Two weeks later, during a yearly mammogram and ultrasound, a small spot was found on the right breast. A biopsy was done. My surgeon called and said she needed to see me now. She would not tell me why, but I kept persistently asking for the answer and I was told I had Stage 1 breast cancer, where cancer cells invade surrounding breast tissue. I reviewed my options and decided on a bilateral mastectomy. The operation in June 2009 took six and a half hours and I spent two and a half days in the hospital.

My husband was my nurse. I couldn’t leave the house for six weeks, drive, or do anything. My mother visited me from Florida and family members stayed with me and took me to the weekly doctor visits. I had told the nurse while I was waiting for the surgery that I was going to do fine, so that I could be a burden to my grandchildren and live with them. She laughed and I laughed. But this was not the end of my ordeal.

In September 2009, I had reconstructive surgery. More doctor visits, bandages and medicine. I attended a Halloween party and told everyone that I was the Bride of Frankenstein, due to my scars and healing. Everyone was laughing. Finally, I thought the one-year marathon was over.

But I was not done yet. Because my mother is a 24-year ovarian and five-year breast cancer survivor, I have blood tests every six months to check my ovarian tumor and breast tumor markers. Two out of three ovarian tumor marker tests were high, and I had a complete hysterectomy in September 2010. No cancer was found. In June 2010, I had started a permanent job as an audit analyst, working with clients to help them save money on freight costs and with trucking companies. I only missed three weeks of work!

I had my yearly checkup in March 2011, and it was negative for cancer. My tumor marker tests for ovarian and breast cancer were normal. My bone scan was normal. My mammogram in May 2011 was normal. I hugged the technician who performed my mammogram. I left with a big smile on my face.

Now I’m finding new challenges. I am climbing the rock wall at the health club, working out with weights, learning to play racquet ball, attending bar bell strength class and doing cardio for 45 minutes, three or four times a week. I smile every day and thank God I am alive.

I was laid off from my job as an audit analyst in August 2011. While I’m networking to find a new job, I will also devote more time to building my public speaking business. I plan to speak at cancer centers.

The doctors have told me that my positive attitude, faith, friends and family, and working out have helped me heal faster than their other patients. One friend calls me her rock, and another friend tells me I am the strong one.


I am a survivor. Victoria Prestia

Provided by Joan Breen

The Breen family: Victoria Prestia of Illinois (from left); Michele Chalmers of Gainesville; Diane Paciencia of San Antonio, Texas; Joan Breen and husband Grover of Fleming Island; and son Chris of Melrose. Victoria, Diane and Joan are all breast cancer survivors. Joan Breen is also an ovarian cancer survivor

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We asked readers to recount how breast cancer has touched their lives. Here is one of those stories ...

My name is Joan Breen. I am 78 years old, mother of five (one son deceased), and I live in Eagle Harbor, Fleming Island. I have been married for 61 years to my husband, Grover. I have a story to tell about breast cancer. And, have tried to do it in “not so many words.” 

I have survived ovarian cancer for 24 years. Thanks to my oncologist and six 9-to-5 hours of chemotherapy treatments, I am here today. My life went back to normal after I was told I was “cancer free.” But in the summer of 2004, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy.

There was a question as to whether the two cancers were related. I was given a BRAC analysis test and the results showed that “no deleterious mutation was found in BRACA1 or 2.” I was told I did not have a gene to pass on to my three daughters, but it would be beneficial for them to be tested.

Then, to our dismay, my two oldest daughters were diagnosed with breast cancer. My 59-year-old daughter in Texas had her left breast removed and the 56-year-old daughter in Illinois had both breasts removed. I was with them both during and after their surgery as I felt the need to give them my support, share my experience and help them adjust to living after cancer.

My daughter in Texas got a prosthesis; the one in Illinois had implant reconstruction. Both are happy with their decisions. As for my youngest daughter, she has her mammograms faithfully. And she has visited and participated in the program at the Hereditary Cancer Program at UF Shands Cancer Center. She has thus far been cancer-free — as have my two other daughters.

There is a happy ending to “getting on” with life after cancer.