Of course you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. Of course you’ve read the articles about the latest breakthroughs in research and treatment. And of course you’re eating right, exercising, performing self-exams and getting mammograms. You are, right? Right? But what else do you need to know about breast cancer? These five Bergen County NJ women, Joy Simha, Jaclyn Alterwein, Jennifer Graf, Danielle Lenardo and Gianna Marie have been through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. They are currently cancer-free. And these amazing women have a few things they’d like you to know:
1.Theres’s a lot of work to be done. Joy Simha wants you to know that she won’t consider herself a breast cancer survivor until she dies of something else. Joy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994 and is one of the three Co-Founders of the Young Survival Coalition (YSC) an innovative and unique support network for young women affected by breast cancer. Joy now represents the YSC on the Board of Directors of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. Additionally, she works as a consultant, facilitating the partnership between health advocates and scientists with the goal of ending breast cancer by January 1, 2020. She uses this month to remember the incredible friends she has lost and she honors them by participation in the NBCC’s Breast Cancer Deadline 2020 campaign. For Joy, it is the children of the people who have died from breast cancer who we need to save by achieving this critical breast cancer deadline.
2.Get the mammogram. Jaclyn Alterwein became a mammogram zealot after her mother’s diagnosis five years ago. “My mother walked in for her annual mammogram and walked out with a cancer diagnosis,” says Jaclyn. As her mother went through treatment, and as she supported friends, and now her sister, on their journey, Jaclyn learned that early detection significantly increases survival rates. So she began using her platform as both a dance and spin instructor to remind women of the importance of yearly mammograms. Last winter, after her annual mammogram and multiple follow-up procedures, Jaclyn received her own breast cancer diagnosis. After a double mastectomy and reconstruction last summer, Jaclyn is cancer free and back to teaching her Dance Fitness and indoor cycling classes (follow her @JaclynBrooke23 on Instagram) Her advice for women? Get the mammogram. Get the mammogram. Get the mammogram. It’s scary and uncomfortable. Do it anyway.
3.Do what’s right for you. Jennifer Graf has been cancer free for six years. When she received her diagnosis, she was told she could either have a partial lumpectomy and then take tamoxifen, or she could opt for a double mastectomy and reconstruction. In a move that was considered uncommon at the time and after considering both family history and the chances of recurrence, she chose the mastectomy. Now cancer free, Jennifer is a psychotherapist in private practice in Tenafly specializing in stress management. She also works with the Graf Center for Integrative Medicine where she is currently planning their November 14th fundraiser with proceeds earmarked to help defray the cost of treatment for patients in need. For Jennifer, it is most important that women have the confidence and knowledge to follow a path that is right for them. At the center, patients are able to participate in meditation, yoga, reiki and other practices that support the treatment of their disease. But what is right for one patient might not be right for another. Jennifer says patients need to ask, “What do I need now?” and to constantly reevaluate the answer.
4.Trust your gut. Danielle Lenardo was just 29 when she found a lump in her breast during a self-exam. She says it was unlike anything she had felt before and she immediately brought it to her doctor’s attention. A needle aspiration proved inconclusive but a subsequent ultrasound and mammogram raised enough suspicions that she underwent a lumpectomy to rule out cancer. What the doctors thought would turn out to be a fibroid was instead an aggressive form of malignancy and resulted in a double mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. Now cancer free for sixteen years, Danielle, a women’s body builder who trains daily and has competed in the pro figure category, wants women to know that they should trust their gut. If you think something’s not right, don’t let a doctor tell you you’re wrong because you’re too young or don’t fit the profile. You know your own body. Danielle believes that knowledge is power and if she hadn’t pushed for answers sixteen years ago, her story could have been very different.
5.Be Vigilant and Give Back. For Gianna Marie, breast cancer was another chapter in a history of medical emergencies that included two strokes and heart surgery prior to her cancer diagnosis in 2014. Following a lumpectomy and radiation, Gianna is on a ten-year therapy plan to keep her cancer at bay and credits the nutritional counseling she received after her treatment for helping her lower her risk factors going forward. But spend thirty seconds in one of her hard-driving, high energy, motivational fitness classes and it will become apparent that her medical history hasn’t slowed her down one bit. In fact, not only does she use her platform to raise awareness, she also uses it to raise funds. She hosts a yearly Pink Ride at a local spin studio and, for the third consecutive year, will be hosting the Cycle for Survival ride, a fundraiser for rare cancer research, at Equinox Paramus in February. She says that although anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer lives with the knowledge that there is always a chance of recurrence, the best defense is to be your own advocate, keep vigilant and stay educated. In the meantime, she feels as though she’s won the lottery and the best way she can use her time is by helping others in need.