Grassi Team Members Share Their Perspectives
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every two minutes in the United States. One in eight women in this country will receive the diagnosis within her lifetime, but survival rates are rising with early detection, better screening methods and improved treatment options.
This October, Grassi marked Breast Cancer Awareness Month by asking two of our team members to share their experiences with battling and beating breast cancer. Joining us for the conversation were:
- Gladys Christian, Administrative Assistant (NYC Office)
- Corin Huff, Senior Marketing Manager (NJ Office)
How was your cancer initially detected?
Gladys: My cancer was initially detected during my annual mammogram/sonogram. Cancer runs in my family, and I was getting tested consistently. Doctors thought they saw something a few years ago, so I had screenings every 6 months for one year and was consistently screened every year thereafter.
Corin: I am among a small percentage of women who develop interval breast cancer, meaning the tumor developed in between mammograms. I felt it myself and went straight to my doctor. If there is one lesson to be learned from my experience, it is not just a reminder to get your mammogram every year (although that is crucial!), but also the importance of self-exams and not ignoring changes to your body.
What went through your mind when you received your diagnosis?
Corin: My primary concern was my children, who were 11 and 14 at the time, and keeping their lives as normal as possible. There really wasn’t time to think about much else! Because of how fast the cancer was growing, I went straight to scans, tests and chemotherapy in less than 2 weeks. I had a wonderful oncologist who told me her goal was 100% curative, and I clung to that thought.
Gladys: When I received my diagnosis, it was a Friday morning in the beginning of my workday. I was super busy because two clients needed returns ASAP, and then I received the call. I felt numb, and my emotions flooded me all at once. Before the phone call, it felt like getting back to those clients was the most important thing in my world, but after the phone call everything else seemed so small in comparison.
Tell us about your treatment process.
Gladys: After being diagnosed, I underwent a series of surgeries. My first surgery was a double mastectomy with DIEP flap, and I had 14 lymph nodes removed. This surgery took 3 months to recoup from, and everyday tasks became difficult to perform. I had additional surgeries for the insertion/removal of medical ports for chemotherapy. After chemo, I received daily radiation treatments for 5 weeks. In my last surgery, they removed my ovaries and fallopian tubes, since the cancer was estrogen positive. I am now undergoing physical therapy and will need another surgery for reconstruction.
Corin: The stage of my cancer and the fact that it had begun to spread to nearby lymph nodes meant that I didn’t really have much choice in my course of treatment – I needed them all. I had 18 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a double mastectomy, followed by 28 radiation treatments, followed by another 6 months of targeted non-chemo medical infusions.
Whom/what did you turn to for support during this season?
Gladys: My family and friends were a massive help, and the team at Mt. Sinai Hospital were amazing! Family flew in to help me after my first surgery to assist me with everyday things that became difficult for me. The Grassi family was also there for me throughout my journey. I cannot thank them enough. My supervisor Caitlin always made sure I was accommodated for, and consistently checked in on how I was doing.
Corin: Two weeks before I was diagnosed, we had moved into a new house closer to my kids’ school and our church, so many of our closest friends were minutes away. I come from a large family, so there was always someone calling, texting or visiting. My husband took on a tremendous amount of extra responsibility, and I received many notes (and gifts) of encouragement from the Grassi family too!
Is there a particular memory regarding your journey that you would say sticks out to you for any reason?
Corin: When I look back over my cancer journey, I am trying to only keep positive memories alive. I will remember my sister and I laughing over the wig choices, the sweet drawings and notes in the mail from my nephews, spending quality time with my friends who sat with me through each 7-hour chemo session. I can honestly say there were more positive memories than bad ones. Or at least, that’s how I’m choosing to remember it. 🙂
Gladys: Throughout my cancer journey, I kept seeing my life in fast moving clips. It starts with the phone call at my desk from the doctor. The next clip is the operating room, which was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was much larger and packed with a big team getting me ready. It was in that moment I realized how serious this was. In my next series of clips, I remember the car service bringing me home from chemo treatments where my dad would be there to open the car door for me.
What has been your favorite distraction/outlet during your journey?
Corin: Work, ha! But seriously, I was thankful that my mind was still sharp and I had a job that could be done from home (in between naps!) and an understanding team and firm. It kept me from feeling completely useless (especially since I was often feeling that way as a mom and wife) and made the long days go by a little more quickly.
Gladys: At first It was hard to find a distraction or an outlet, but I now binge watch funny movies as it is helpful to bring back laughter. I also belong to Facebook support groups for breast cancer patients, where I can connect with people who understand what I am going through.
Where are you now in your journey?
Corin: I am so thankful to say I am now cancer-free! I had a complete response to the chemotherapy, which means there was no evidence of disease when my treatments were complete. My body has healed amazingly from the treatments. I am now looking ahead to my final reconstruction surgery this fall, recovering and finally putting this chapter behind me.
Gladys: I am currently in physical therapy and am looking into counseling. Some days are a challenge because I look “normal” but many things normal to others are a challenge for me. Things fall out of my hands. I cannot hold more than the weight of a gallon of milk in my left hand and cannot carry on my right hand. I cannot sit or stand for long; I am still trying to rebuild physically. I used to look in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back. I stopped looking for that person. This journey has changed me physically and emotionally.
What message or words of wisdom would you like to share with others?
Gladys: I want everyone going through this to know it’s a long journey, but think positively – you’ll get through it. It’s important to get lots of support and take time to check in on your mental health. For those who don’t have breast cancer I want you to know, I did not have symptoms. I felt healthy. I did not know I had breast cancer until the annual exam. I strongly advise you to take time to get tested yearly. As some of you know, my father passed away a few months ago from Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He rarely went to the doctor. They found the cancer in January, and a month later he passed away, so I cannot stress it enough – Get checked!
Corin: I echo Gladys’s advice to stay proactive with your health. I had no family history or genetic risk factors (and was considered “young” at 43), yet I still needed to be vigilant. I’d also like to share some advice for people who know and love someone with cancer. Be very intentional and specific about the help you can provide. Simply saying, “let me know what I can do” puts the burden on the patient to anticipate their needs and reach out for help while they are incredibly tired, emotional and distracted. I had friends offer to clean my bathrooms, fold my laundry, bring a meal, take my children. Offering tangible help makes it easy for the patient to accept. Even if they say “no,” it will mean a lot to them that you were thoughtful enough to ask.