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Breast cancer was always in the back of Kathy Petrozelli's mind. Her mother was treated for both breast and ovarian cancer. Knowing that family history raises a woman's risk of these cancers, Kathy had a mammogram every year since she turned 29.
Kathy also had another risk factor in her favor for cancer - her weight. In 2003, Kathy's gynecologist posed the question, "What are you going to do with your 10-year-old daughter when you are not here any longer because of your weight?" That day Kathy signed up for Weight Watchers. After a couple years of hard work, she became a success story. In 2005, Kathy reached her goal by losing 120 pounds. That is when she started working for Weight Watchers, which she finds very rewarding (and has maintained her weight).
"Life was good. I was finally healthy and starting to live my life," shared Kathy, who likes to go camping, kayaking, attend her daughter's softball games, teach Catholic education and co-lead a girl scout troop, among other things. Then came the news she feared. A routine mammogram disclosed a small tumor in her left breast.
"I knew that the screening was super important and that's why I did it so faithfully."
"When I was first diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, which is breast cancer, I was shocked, even though I screened for it every year," said Kathy. "I knew that the screening was super important and that's why I did it so faithfully. When the radiologist told me what he saw, he also told me that it was found very early. Still, my life stopped and became all about breast cancer."
Kathy turned to the cancer experts at Hunterdon Medical Center, a Fox Chase Cancer Center Partner hospital, located in nearby Flemington, New Jersey. Genetic testing revealed that Kathy was a carrier of BRCA2, a genetic mutation that increased her risk of breast cancer and recurrence.
"Emotionally, I was not ready to hear the word 'mastectomy' and said absolutely not!" admitted Kathy. "I opted for a lumpectomy, knowing that I had high risk of recurrence." In the fall of 2008, Kathy had a lumpectomy at Hunterdon. Not long after, she decided to have a full hysterectomy as well, to rule out her risk of ovarian cancer.
At the same time, Kathy decided to go on to have a simple bilateral mastectomy. "I knew my chances were high - about 85 percent - of the breast cancer coming back," she said. Kathy sought opinions from doctors, family and friends regarding her decision. Everyone encouraged her to have the mastectomy, but Kathy was not totally convinced.
Playing with fate.
What finally changed Kathy's mind was when a doctor told her "if you don't have a mastectomy, you are playing with fate." Kathy believes the emotional aspect of a cancer diagnosis is something normal that most women go through because they are so scared.
The next day, Kathy, a legal secretary, found a copy of a local paper on her chair that was left by her boss. In it was an article about Jane Tervooren, a woman being treated for breast cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. When she read Jane's story, Kathy decided to see the same surgeons mentioned in the article - Elin Sigurdson, MD, breast surgeon and Sameer Patel, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.
"Both Dr. Sigurdson and Dr. Patel were very professional and did a great job," Kathy added. "I am very happy now. Both doctors went above and beyond by offering me their emotional support too." Kathy does not believe anyone would know that she underwent mastectomy and reconstruction without her telling them.
"I will never forget what the doctors at Fox Chase did for me and for my family. They saved my life."
"I will never forget what the doctors at Fox Chase did for me and for my family. There is no doubt in my mind that they saved my life. My family has just resumed our pre-cancerous life and have so much to live for." She is also grateful to her many friends, who made sure there was a meal on the table each night and who provided her with the love and support she desperately needed.
Kathy mentioned how impressed she was with everyone at Fox Chase, who proved to be some of the most compassionate, caring people she's met. "They took me by the hand and walked me through what had to be done. They also did a fine job at controlling the pain," said Kathy. "When I was finally ready to see an oncologist, it was great to meet Crystal Denlinger, MD, and her fellow, Dr. Faller, both of whom were very familiar with my case."
"I want to be around to enjoy the next chapter in my life. Now I can be confident that I will."
"Having the mastectomy and reconstruction was the hardest decision I've made in my life," admitted Kathy. "I did it for my husband and my daughter, who I love very much. I want to be around to enjoy the next chapter in my life. Now I can be confident that I will."