SURVIVOR SPOTLIGHT

 

Stacy Schwartz
Fort Lauderdale

 

 “Last month, my first biopsy ever led to my cancer diagnosis. There was an initial shock. In the car on the way home I read the discharge papers “Diagnosis: Breast Cancer”. I couldn’t bring myself to type or text the word “cancer”.  Seeing it in writing made in real.” 

Last month I took on my most important client, myself. On Sept 10, 2020 exactly 19 years after I passed the Florida bar exam, I was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer. On December 27, 2019, when the word “pandemic” was a term mainly used in history books, I had my annual mammogram and ultrasound. I received the all clear and the comfort of another year until I would need screening again. The screening process is no picnic. No one looks forward to a doctor performing a breast exam on them or the discomfort of a mammogram. It started for me at 21 when my gynecologist felt a lump on my right side. And so the process of early detection began. It wasn’t a surprise. My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer before I was born, in 1968, a time when it was a death sentence for most. But not for her. Several years later she developed ovarian cancer. She beat cancer again and lived the remainder of her life cancer free. 


Because of my grandmother’s history, for as long as I remember, my mom was under the care of an oncologist. My mom underwent extra screening, experienced a number of biopsies and had genetic testing. At 21, my mom and I began going annually to the oncologist together and I started getting ultrasounds. I started regular mammograms at 35. 


Along came 2020. A year that began with great hopes, but quickly became the one that most would like to forget. 2020 has challenged us all in different ways. For me, the real challenge began in July when I felt a lump on my left side during a shower. I monitored it for about a week. No change. I thought about waiting to see the oncologist because COVID 19 numbers were on the rise here after the July 4 weekend. I didn’t wait. I took the first appointment available to see my doctor and when he ordered an updated mammogram and ultrasound, I again took the first appointment. The day after my tests, my doctor called with his recommendation to remove the entire lump. 


My first biopsy ever led to my cancer diagnosis. There is an initial shock. In the car on the way home I read the discharge papers “Diagnosis: Breast Cancer”. I couldn’t type or text anyone at first the word “cancer”. But after a few days I put myself to work for myself. Researching, reading, preparing questions as if I was going to take each doctor’s deposition during my allotted appointments. I spoke to a number of breast cancer survivors. After all, survivors have firsthand knowledge on how to beat cancer. And after the fact gathering was complete and the medical testing was done, I had to make some decisions. I was the client. This time decisions affected me, not someone else. 


Now, five weeks after my diagnosis I am on the other side of a bilateral mastectomy with simultaneous reconstruction. On October 16, 2020, I learned I was cancer free and that the cancer never had the chance to reach my lymph nodes. October is breast cancer awareness month. October brings hope and faith to many battling breast cancer. It reminds us to remember those the disease has taken. October turned me from breast cancer patient to breast cancer survivor. While much healing remains for me in the future, it is important to focus on how I got here. Early detection, self-awareness and prompt medical attention. These are three things I know create fear and anxiety for some women. However, from where I sit today I can promise you these steps will be worth it.