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A Survivor's Guide: How You Can Help

It was October 25, 2010, six days before my 48th birthday, when I got the phone call after being biopsied. "You have cancer and need to find an oncologist." I took a deep breath and said, “Wow, OK. I can do this”. I have four friends that just went through it, and now it’s just my turn. I said to myself, “You’re a feisty Italian and with a positive attitude, you can do this!” I have a wonderful husband, kids and friends who are like family, so with that support, how could I fail?

My symptoms were different than most cancer findings. I never felt a lump because there wasn't one. My left breast started to get red and then grew larger. The skin started to take on a different texture, like an orange peel. I made an appointment with my gynecologist to check it out and could see the concerned look on her face after she examined me. She told me, “I want you to get a biopsy and ultra sound.”

“Now? I have to go back to work," I said.

“Not today, Mary ... ”

I called my daughter that day to tell her, "I think I’m in deep trouble." I knew in my heart I was scared, but I also knew I was strong. It was right then and there that I decided to call my cancer “Cancer Schmancer” (just like Fran Drescher did).

When I met with my oncologist, he diagnosed me with Stage 3B Inflammatory Breast Cancer. IBC is rare aggressive type of breast cancer and makes up only 1 to 6 percent of breast cancer cases.

So, the fun began! I started off with chemo treatments for five months, which lead to my radical double mastectomy, then 36 back-to-back days of radiation. And now, with the power of science, attitude and love, I’m one-year cancer free. In about a year there will be a discussion on whether or not I’m a candidate for reconstruction.

Here are some tips for helping someone with breast cancer:

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