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You can Survive and Thrive!

In 2006, I was attending Lewis University near Chicago, working on a bachelor’s degree in business and only one year away from graduation.

During a routine mammogram and ultrasound, a spot was found on my right breast. A biopsy found stage 0 breast cancer, where cancer cells are contained in the part of the breast where they started. I attended classes with stitches and pain, determined to finish my degree. Then in 2007, my job in operations administration was eliminated. By 2008, I was working as logistics assistant, but in 2009, my job ended due to a company-wide downsizing. Again, I networked, attended career workshops, enrolled with employment agencies and interviewed.

Two weeks later, during a yearly mammogram and ultrasound, a small spot was found on the right breast. A biopsy was done. My surgeon called and said she needed to see me now. She would not tell me why, but I kept persistently asking for the answer and I was told I had Stage 1 breast cancer, where cancer cells invade surrounding breast tissue. I reviewed my options and decided on a bilateral mastectomy. The operation in June 2009 took six and a half hours and I spent two and a half days in the hospital.

My husband was my nurse. I couldn’t leave the house for six weeks, drive, or do anything. My mother visited me from Florida and family members stayed with me and took me to the weekly doctor visits. I had told the nurse while I was waiting for the surgery that I was going to do fine, so that I could be a burden to my grandchildren and live with them. She laughed and I laughed. But this was not the end of my ordeal.

In September 2009, I had reconstructive surgery. More doctor visits, bandages and medicine. I attended a Halloween party and told everyone that I was the Bride of Frankenstein, due to my scars and healing. Everyone was laughing. Finally, I thought the one-year marathon was over.

But I was not done yet. Because my mother is a 24-year ovarian and five-year breast cancer survivor, I have blood tests every six months to check my ovarian tumor and breast tumor markers. Two out of three ovarian tumor marker tests were high, and I had a complete hysterectomy in September 2010. No cancer was found. In June 2010, I had started a permanent job as an audit analyst, working with clients to help them save money on freight costs and with trucking companies. I only missed three weeks of work!

I had my yearly checkup in March 2011, and it was negative for cancer. My tumor marker tests for ovarian and breast cancer were normal. My bone scan was normal. My mammogram in May 2011 was normal. I hugged the technician who performed my mammogram. I left with a big smile on my face.

Now I’m finding new challenges. I am climbing the rock wall at the health club, working out with weights, learning to play racquet ball, attending bar bell strength class and doing cardio for 45 minutes, three or four times a week. I smile every day and thank God I am alive.

I was laid off from my job as an audit analyst in August 2011. While I’m networking to find a new job, I will also devote more time to building my public speaking business. I plan to speak at cancer centers.

The doctors have told me that my positive attitude, faith, friends and family, and working out have helped me heal faster than their other patients. One friend calls me her rock, and another friend tells me I am the strong one.

I am a survivor.

Victoria Prestia

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