During the month of October, you can’t go too far without spotting pink ribbons or advertisements asking you to join the fight. Breast Cancer Awareness speaks a universal language.
According to the American Cancer Society, about one in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer. By the end of 2015, there are expected to be nearly 232,000 new cases.
The good news is there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. Two of those survivors are a part of our CPS Energy family.
Laura and Melody
Laura Viera, a customer service representative, and Melody Kreutziger, a senior claims representative, shared details of their journey—the daily battles, their scars, and how they overcame the most challenging ordeal of their lives.
“I found out on Dec., 14, 2007, during a routine mammogram,” says Melody. “No one wants to hear those words ‘you have cancer.’ Everyone deals with it differently. When I got the news, I decided not to research anything on cancer or treatment. I decided to place my complete trust in my doctors and in God.”
While early detection through a mammogram offers substantial benefits, you don’t always need a machine to tell you when something is wrong.
“All I did was take one look in the mirror and I knew something wasn’t right,” stated Laura. “It was a Saturday morning, I noticed my right breast looked significantly different. I immediately did a self-breast exam and there it was – a large, hard lump. I found out it was definitely cancer. The worse part was yet to come… chemotherapy.”
“Chemo” works by attacking cells that are dividing quickly, which is why they work against cancer cells. But other cells in the body, like those in hair follicles, also divide quickly. That’s why hair loss is a common side effect.
Melody started her six rounds of treatment every three weeks in hopes to shrink the tumor. She then scheduled a lumpectomy, which is a partial removal of the breast.
“The battle begins the moment you receive the first chemo treatment,” she remembers. “The doctor said by day 18 I would start to lose my hair. I remember taking a shower and watching large clumps of hair hit the tub. I got out, looked in the mirror and instantly started to cry. I walked into the living room to tell my family that ‘it’ was happening. We went into the garage and my husband shaved my head while my 16-year-old son held my hand and my 12-year-old daughter watched from just a few feet away. I will never forget the blank expression on her face. Years later, I learned that she had gone into her room that night and cried alone.”
Battling cancer can leave a scar and for both Melody and Laura, the decision to lose a part of themselves was an extraordinarily difficult one to make.
“I thought losing my hair was bad. Losing my left-side breast was even worse,” she recalls. “Once I healed from surgery, it was time for radiation. This was the most painful experience I have ever been through. But I made it. Once I healed, I was strong enough to have reconstruction surgery.”
For Melody, the lumpectomy soon turned into a decision to remove both breasts. Through the process she learned that a relative had passed away from breast cancer, so she opted to have a genetic test performed before making the decision. A breast cancer susceptibility test (BRCA) is typically done for people with a strong family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer, and for those who already have one of these diseases. It can detect if you carry the gene mutation which causes cancer.
“I ended up being BRCA positive. This news changed the rest of my plan for treatment. The results indicated that I carried the gene and had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 44 percent risk of ovarian cancer,” says Melody. “This also meant that my kids could be carrying the same gene mutation. I wasn’t going to take any chances, so I had a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction in 2008 followed by a hysterectomy in 2009.”
Because the BRCA gene is hereditary, Melody and her husband decided to have her 22-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter tested for the gene mutation in 2013.
“My son was negative. Unfortunately, my daughter tested positive for the gene and is at a high risk for breast cancer,” Melody says. “It broke my heart to hear the results, but now she is under the care of my oncologist and has a mammogram and MRI once a year. These tests will help us detect any early signs. They may one day be our saving grace.”
Melody and Laura are now cancer free! They’re living proof that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.
“This was the hardest journey I’ve had to go through, but I know it has made me stronger and a better person,” says Laura. “I believe God gives us all crosses to carry, but it is how we handle it and what we learn from it that makes us better human beings. I have been cancer free for the last nine years! I am proud to say I beat cancer – cancer did not beat me.”
“One of the happiest moments ever is when you find the courage to let go of what you can’t change. Live each day to the fullest and learn to not sweat the small stuff.”
Melody is now eight years cancer free. “Cancer changed things for me physically, but it didn’t change my positive attitude or my will to live,” she says.
Both women are advocates for seeing a doctor and having regular mammograms, whether you are a male or female. Annual mammograms are typically covered at 100 percent by most health benefit plans, including ours.
The ACS recommends women over the age of 40 have a mammogram once a year to help detect any early stages of cancer.
Join the fight!
Mark your calendar today! Join the fight against breast cancer by starting or joining a team at next year’s Race for the Cure in San Antonio on April 9.