31 Days of Impact – Day 13, Cindy Colangelo
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31 Days of Impact – Day 13, Cindy Colangelo
“Do not look at statistics. You are not a statistic.”
“Knowing that there is a chance that something might work and you might be able to contribute for the future, you do it.”
“Always have hope. Action means that we’ve got to be our own advocates.”
In 2001, I was the VP of Business Development for a busy real estate firm. I worked long hours, cared for my family and was an avid volunteer in my community. I was living life to the fullest and even participated in a Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in the mid-80’s without realizing what a personal cause it would soon become. Little did I know that eventually I would be one of approximately 155,000 Americans who currently live with metastatic breast cancer. It all began when during what should have been a routine mammogram, doctors discovered that I had developed DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). Luckily, this is a common, non-invasive breast cancer and I was even able to continue working through a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. I was a breast cancer survivor and proud that I had been able to cross that hurdle and move on with my life. Eight years later, the nightmare began again.
Once again, a routine mammogram revealed a lump, this time in my other breast. A biopsy confirmed that it was cancer, and the tumor was HER-2 positive. I was assured that since the cancer was caught early enough, the prognosis was promising. Not wanting to take any more chances however, I opted for a double mastectomy. After undergoing another round of surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, I was told by my doctor, “Have a great life!” I had every intention of doing so.
Not even a year after I had completed breast reconstruction surgeries, on New Year’s Eve, I found another lump. The thought that it could be cancer again never crossed my mind, yet when I saw my doctor’s face, I knew something was very wrong. I was horrified to learn that the cancer had returned and that it had now metastasized to my clavicle and lungs. I had mistakenly convinced myself that lightening never strikes twice (or in my case three times) so I wasn’t prepared to fully grasp the gravity of my situation. I was in a state of denial and insisted on a second opinion.
The oncologist I met with was straightforward and told me, “Your treatment options are not good. This is not a sprint. This is going to be a marathon.” It was only then that the seriousness of my prognosis fully sunk in. Despite the shock I felt, I was determined to fight. I immediately signed up to participate in three clinical trials, including one for traztuzumab (TDM-1), an experimental drug thought to delay the progress of HER-2 positive breast cancer. When asked if I was scared about trying new drugs, all I could think was that even if there was a chance that something might work, that I might be able to contribute for the future, I had no choice but to do it. With the help of funding from organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure, women like me have the option of participating in groundbreaking research to find a true cure.
More than ten years later, I am still going strong and providing support to other women who are going through similar experiences. When I hear that people have been living with metastatic disease for five, ten, or twenty years, I feel uplifted at how far we have come. I strongly believe that we should all be our own advocates. You need to look at all of your options, you need to be open and aware, and you need to educate yourself. Advocacy to me means offering people hope through my work at the Komen Dallas Affiliate Speaker’s Bureau and by participating in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. The best advice I ever received was to remember not to look at statistics. I am not a statistic – I will always have hope and continue to fight.
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About the author
Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.