Thursday, May 26, 2011

Recent Interview for SheKnows.com


5 Amazing women -- all cancer survivors

Real Life
Cancer Stories

by Kori Ellis


We had the opportunity to interview five amazing women from various parts of the country and walks of life. No matter how different these women are, they have one major thing in common – they are all cancer survivors.

Gina MaisanoMeet Gina

Gina Maisano is a two-time breast cancer survivor, founder of the "No Surrender Breast Cancer" foundation and author of Intimacy after Breast Cancer.
I was a chef/caterer in Locust Valley, New York. I had a wonderful gourmet shop and catered off premise parties from 10 people at a private home to 1,000 people on a polo field.

The diagnosis

I was very lucky to have a doctor who believed in early detection. He had me get my first baseline mammogram at age 35. At age 39, a small shadow was found and that was my first cancer. It was invasive, ductal, triple negative breast cancer. That means it was not responsive to estrogen and it is a more aggressive type of breast cancer.

The treatment

I had a lumpectomy, six months of CMF chemotherapy followed by radiation. Six years later, I found another cancer while doing a breast self-exam and that was in the opposite breast. This time it was lobular, and responsive to estrogen. Because of the location of this cancer, under the nipple, lumpectomy was not possible. I chose a bilateral mastectomy followed by tissue expander reconstruction that later on were exchanged for silicone implants. I underwent nine months of chemotherapy, Adriamycin, Abraxane and Xeloda, followed by monthly Lupron injections to put me into menopause so I could take Femara, an anti-estrogen drug that helps prevent breast cancer recurrence. I then had radiation to the chest, underarm and collarbone area because this cancer spread to four of my lymph nodes.
Because of all the radiation I had, my skin did not do very well with the silicone implants, so I had a latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction. That takes the latissimus dorsi muscle from the back and puts it where the breasts were. An implant is also used. Because there is a new blood supply, the skin no longer had problems because of the radiation damage.

Lost friends

quotation mark openEven though it may seem like I have been through a lot, the most difficult part of the ordeal has been the friends I have lost.quotation mark close
Even though it may seem like I have been through a lot, the most difficult part of the ordeal has been the friends I have lost. I started my foundation, the No Surrender Breast Cancer Foundation, to help women through their breast cancer. We have an online support forum where women can talk to each other to share their experiences and find a safe place to say whatever they want. Because it is by survivor for survivor, women can express the things that they cannot say to their families, and members of the forum truly understand because they have been through it themselves. I have become very close to these women and we have lost some beloved members over the years and it is very hard. Especially when their lives could have been saved if their cancer had been found earlier. That is why our biggest program is the Before Forty Initiative. We strongly encourage all women to get their baseline mammogram at age 35 and not at the age of 40, because so many cancers can be found at their earliest, most curable stage if they don't wait.

Advice for others

If a woman has just been diagnosed, I hope she will come to our website, nosurrenderbreastcancerhelp.org. There she will find, in English, not doctor-speak, everything that she needs to know to help her fight her cancer. Then she can jump over to the support forum and talk to her fellow sisters. What she will discover is that this journey has a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is terror-filled because you don't know what is happening to you and how you will ever make it through. The middle is enduring the treatments and surgeries. And the end, is when you are done with all of the doctors and treatments and the rest of your life begins. That can be so very daunting and overwhelming, which is why I wrote Intimacy after Breast Cancer -- not only does it help you regain your intimate life, but it helps your reclaim your entire life post-cancer. It helps a woman heal both psychologically and physically.
You really will get through this and you will get your life back -- maybe even a better life.

interview by Kori Ellis for Sheknows.com

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