Breast cancer is most common in women 50 and older, however, 11% of all new cases in the United States are diagnosed in those who are younger than 45. Silvia M. was one of them, but with help from the oncologists, surgeons and support staff at Overlook Medical Center’s Carol G. Simon Cancer Center, she was able to beat the odds and inspire others.
At age 33, with a family of three children, Silvia never imagined that the lump in her breast might be cancer. Her husband, however, insisted she go to the doctor when it started to grow and change in shape. It was a good thing she did – the tests revealed she had stage 3 breast cancer.
“Cancer can feel like an out-of-body experience,” Silvia says. “You don’t know where to turn.”
She chose Overlook Medical Center, where she had the benefit of working with a multidisciplinary team of specialists, as well as nurse navigator Sandra Wrigley and a support staff, who helped her with each step of her treatment journey.
Silvia underwent a mastectomy with breast surgeon Margaret Sacco, MD, followed by radiation therapy with Joana Emmolo, MD and chemotherapy with breast medical oncologist Bonni Guerin, MD. Later, James Gardner, MD performed reconstructive surgery.
“I can’t imagine a better group of doctors,” Silvia says of her team. “There is no doubt in my mind that they saved my life.”
Silvia, however, wasn’t completely out of the woods. Because her cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, there was a chance it could come back.
“Silvia had 35 lymph nodes involved with cancer, and the risk of harboring microscopic amounts of metastatic disease to other areas increases with the number of lymph nodes involved,” says Dr. Guerin.
Dr. Guerin prescribed traditional hormone therapy, along with research-based immunotherapy, to prevent cancer recurrence. When combined, these two treatments have advanced the average time of progression-free survival from several months to more than two years.
Silvia was so thankful for the support she received throughout her treatment that when her breast cancer went into remission, she decided to give back to others. Curémonos – a community-based, non-profit group that provides education and support to Latinas who are dealing with breast health concerns or a breast cancer diagnosis – seemed like a good place to start.
Still a volunteer with the organization today, Silvia talks to women about nutrition, wellness and stress reduction. She also creates bags filled with lotions, lip balms and other goodies for chemotherapy patients at Overlook Medical Center.
“Everyone involved in my care was amazing. Anything I needed – emotional support, financial guidance, a prosthesis – someone was there,” says Silvia. “I’m just trying to give back. To me, that’s the most important thing right now. I’m lucky to be able to do this.”