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Mother & Daughter Breast Cancer Survivors

Mother and Daughter Breast Cancer Survivors

By: Sasha Bush

The Ashland Beacon


The bond between a mother and her child is a bond that is unlike any other. It is a bond forged within the womb long before you ever laid eyes upon each other. It is a bond that is unwavering, unconditional, and everlasting. Teri Schwartz and her daughter Heather Pack share a bond that goes far deeper than just that, of a typical mother-and-daughter relationship; because both have witnessed and lived through one of life's most unexpected curve balls. Schwartz and Pack were diagnosed with breast cancer just one year apart from each other, and both kicked cancer's ugly butt. Schwartz's daughter was the first to receive the unexpected and devastating diagnosis. "I was cooking dinner for my family before we headed out to the National Day of Prayer walk. I had an itch near my left armpit, and when I scratched it, I felt a little round hard bump. I was still nursing my daughter, but knew it felt different than a clogged milk duct. My mom worked for my family doctor then, and he wasted no time the next day by sending me to the KDMC Women's Center. I underwent a mammogram and ultrasound that day, and it was determined I needed a biopsy. My biopsy was scheduled for the following Monday, and it was Wednesday that I received the report that it was cancer. I had just turned 30 in February, and my daughter had just celebrated her first birthday on April 30. I found the lump on May 6. It was on May 12 that our entire world changed, and I was told it was cancer." shared Pack.



     Things began to move quickly after the diagnosis. Pack soon found that her days were filled with countless doctor appointments, tests, and more unexpected news. "I was scheduled for an MRI of both breasts, since I was still nursing and they couldn't get a clear picture to ensure we were only dealing with the one spot. The MRI showed that it was just one spot and that my lymph nodes were clear. This was great news! So, after that, I was scheduled for a lumpectomy on May 28 and told we were looking at stage one. Surgery quickly revealed it was, in fact, in my lymph nodes. The pathology report revealed that it was exactly five of my lymph nodes and that I had stage 3A- ER+, PR+ & HER2+ breast cancer. Learning that it was stage three was probably a bigger gut punch in the gut, than hearing I had cancer." declared Pack. After a long and hard-fought battle, Pack finally heard the words that she had long awaited on May 28 2010, that she was cancer free after undergoing a lumpectomy. However, her journey was not yet over due to Pack's particular type of cancer. Pack started chemotherapy in July 2010, followed by a series of treatments and surgeries. "In October 2011, I went back into surgery, had a double mastectomy, and began the reconstruction process. As a result of being ER+ and PR+ and my late staging, I was placed on an oral pill for ten years. Because of the possibility of side effects from the oral pill, I opted to have a hysterectomy in October 2012. It was not an easy journey and especially more difficult considering the ages of my children. But I was blessed with an amazing support system made up of my family, friends, church family and community members that helped with our kids, sent meals, did laundry, cleaned my house, took me to treatments, etc. That allowed me to concentrate on just getting better and getting this behind us." said Pack.

     Sadly, just one year later, Pack's mother, Teri Schwartz, was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Pack stated," I was diagnosed a year before my mom. It was a shocker when I was diagnosed because we had no family history, and I had breastfed all three of my children, which is supposed to lower your risks of breast cancer. So, when my mom was diagnosed almost exactly a year after me, we were even more dumbfounded. Thankfully my mom's cancer was caught early enough that she just had to have the lumpectomy, followed by radiation and then take five years of the oral pill." Schwartz shared, "I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 52 years old, on April 29 2011, almost a year from when Heather was diagnosed. I went for my yearly mammogram in 2010, which showed some scattered calcifications, so they scheduled me for a repeat mammogram in six months to check on them again. When I went back for the six-month follow-up mammogram, there were other calcifications, so I was sent to see a surgeon for consultation. I had a biopsy that returned negative, but the surgeon, Dr. Legenza, felt something wasn't right. So Dr. Lagenza sent me to have another biopsy called a MIBB that took out several different samples from the breast, and it showed cancer."

     Schwartz describes her breast cancer journey as nothing like that of her daughters. "I ended up having a lumpectomy of my left breast. Thankfully, my cancer was caught very early, as it was all encased. I was diagnosed with stage DCIS stage zero, which means it was all encapsulated, so no lymph nodes were involved. I had surgery and had to allow time for the incision to heal. I was scheduled at the Tri-State Regional Cancer Center, to see the Radiation Oncologist. I was scheduled to start several rounds of radiation after they marked me and tattooed the left breast area, where they would radiate the area to kill any other cancer cells. I was also placed on Tamoxifen for the next five years, which is a pill you take daily to treat breast cancer and may also help prevent it in women at high risk. For me, my journey was not anything like what my daughter had to face. She is most definitely a "true warrior.” proclaimed Schwartz. "Beating cancer for me was great! But for me seeing my daughter beat cancer has been the biggest blessing in my life. I have never felt so guilty in all of my life because I was diagnosed at a very early stage and Heather had to go through so much with her journey. It should have been me that had to endure what she did—watching the journey she had to take before I was diagnosed, made my journey seem like nothing. After Heather and I were diagnosed with breast cancer, it made me realize, even more, that time is so precious we just never know what can happen in a blink of an eye. I am so thankful for God watching over us both through our journeys and all the kind people along the way that has sent up many prayers and all the kindness they offered. " added Schwartz.

     Breast cancer doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care how old you are or if you have a family history or not. It doesn't care if you've done all the right things to lower your risk of developing it. The bottom line is that it can still hit you when you least expect it. "So be diligent. Do your self-exams, know your breasts, and don't be afraid to ask for someone to check things out, if things don't seem right." declared Pack. Schwartz, Pack's mother, added, "I would like everyone to know it is very important to do your self-breast exams. If you feel anything of concern, please see your physician. A lot of people say they can't tell anything when they do an exam, but if you do your breast exam regularly, you will know if something feels different and when you are of age to have mammograms, please make them a priority. They can detect cancer at an early stage, even more so with the technology available today. Cancer knows no age, so please be vigilant with the breast exams and any changes you notice and seek medical advice for the next steps to take. As we all know, cancer has no age limits, and we know our bodies better than anyone else." 

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