This October, the entrance to University Hospital will be lit pink to honor those whose lives have been touched by breast cancer.
An estimated 3.1 million women in the U.S. have a history of breast cancer – including those currently in treatment and those who have concluded treatment. To recognize the person in your life who has been affected by breast cancer, reserve a pink light to be on display throughout the entire month.
Nine inspiring women share their perspectives on living with breast cancer and why support makes a difference.
Susan Benz was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly two years ago – for the second time. “Same breast, same cancer,” Susan says. After her second diagnosis, she was referred to UW Health for a mastectomy and breast reconstruction, and she couldn’t recommend a better team than Dr. Wilke and Dr. Siebert and all the nurses and staff she met here. “Now I can say I’m twenty-two and two years cancer-free,” she says. “Cancer is life-changing, but I didn’t allow it to take away my positive perspective on life. You need to be mindful of slowing down and resting and taking good care of yourself. When you’re a bit of a control freak, you need to allow people to love on you and do things for you. In my case, I let the Lord lead and did not try to put myself in control.”
When you meet Colleen Hayes, the first thing you may notice is her sense of humor and how much she loves to laugh. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2017 and will be finishing her chemotherapy treatments mid-September. Colleen says: “I’d say humor is how I’m dealing with things, and I do say things that I think some people might occasionally find inappropriate. My oncologist now is Dr. Kari Wisinski, and she’s great and really smart – and she laughs at all my jokes.” For her, advocating for patient support dollars is important because of how supported she has been. “I think everyone should have access to high-quality healthcare no matter what. I’m incredibly blessed that I do, and it's also important to me that all women have the same opportunity for help and support,” Colleen says.
Now a 19-year survivor, Judie Herstand was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in October 1998, just two years after her older sister’s diagnosis. Now, as a way of giving back to support others with breast cancer, Judie volunteers with UW Health’s Breast Center Patient. She also worked at Gilda's Club Madison as a Support Group Facilitator for four years. How does she recommend supporting somebody with cancer? “Listen, let them lead the way, be there for them and stay in touch. They may not be able to stay in touch because they are overwhelmed. But understand it’s not about you, the person giving support; it’s about them. Be selfless," Judie says.
When Nina Jones began her career as an oncology nurse, she wasn’t spurred into it because of any family or friends’ connection to cancer. “Oncology was my first clinical in nursing school and I really liked it and I’ve stayed in it all these years,” says Nina, who recently celebrated her 25th anniversary with UW Health. But as she knows first-hand after being diagnosed with breast cancer this past May, working in the oncology field does not make you immune to the disease. “One thing that I know now is when my patients call in with their symptoms, I can relate. I can empathize more than sympathize.” She says the hardest part has been telling her family and co-workers that she has cancer because at first she didn’t want to tell them. “My doctor, Dr. Burkard, encouraged me to tell them a little bit and then say that I don’t want to say anymore. And that has been helpful,” Nina says.
Kim Lockwood is over six years past her initial breast cancer diagnosis, and says that awareness and support are key. “There’s so much that goes into treatment, it’s really overwhelming. When you’re in the middle of it, to hear from other people and to know that you’ve got that support, it speaks volumes,” she says. Kim has since supported UW Carbone through research fundraising events such as Boxers and Bras, and she encourages everyone she knows to get mammograms. “I’ve had several friends since my diagnosis who have been diagnosed, and a lot of it is because they got in there and got that mammogram. It may be nothing, but it may be something, and if you don’t get it checked you’re not going to get it resolved,” Kim says.
“When you hear the word cancer, your world screeches to a halt. Without the support of family and friends and the Carbone Cancer Center, it would have been extremely difficult to get through,” says Lynn Malayter, a five-year breast cancer survivor. And as a patient advocate for the newly diagnosed, Lynn takes that advice seriously. “I walk the walk with many of the women. Being able to answer some of their questions as someone who’s been there, done that, is really important, and it’s great that it’s supported by the Breast Center. I think the most important thing I tell patients is that you are not cancer. You are still a person, and cancer is a circumstance you are dealing with, but it does not have to define you.”
Earlier this year, 30-year-old Amanda Poetzl was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a disease with no targeted therapies. So after a lumpectomy, eight rounds of chemo, a partial mastectomy and breast reconstruction, she is about to start six weeks of radiation. “No one wants to be portrayed as weak or needy, but family and friends are there to help you get through everything, and to me that was a really important part of just staying sane and staying in my general pre-cancer mindset,” Amanda says. She says her best advice to give to patients’ loved ones is to make your presence available. “It’s not always the case that someone will want to see you or talk to you, but just having them know that you’re there is really important. And just lots of empathy and compassion.”
“For me, the most frightening thing about a cancer diagnosis was the unknown: What’s going to happen? How am I going to feel? How am I going to manage everything else in my life?” recalls Deb Tobin, now a three-year breast cancer survivor. “I was fortunate that I had a wonderful support network, but not everyone has that same good fortune." What's Deb's advice for family and friends who want to help? "Be proactive with your help. Instead of asking if there is anything you can do, say, ‘I’m coming over to clean your house for you on Tuesday,'" she says. Deb is a patient survivor advocate, and also participates with Carbone’s Breast Cancer Research Advisory Network. "I support the Pink Lights initiative because of its focus on continuing to provide complementary types of assistance to patients in addition to their medical care.”
The fourth generation of her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer, though the youngest by 25 years at the time of diagnosis, Peggy Zimdars is now a 12-year breast cancer survivor. Peggy has served as an advisor for the Breast Center’s Patient and Family Advisory Council since 2007. “As a PFA, I’ve seen the evolution of the Breast Center into a team-based, comprehensive care experience all the way from imaging to personalized survivorship care to helping people stay well and meet their goals,” Peggy says. “I’m really excited about the Pink Lights project the because the Breast Center supports breast cancer patients before, during and after breast cancer, and the cooling caps provide another option during treatment for patients who would like to decrease hair loss."
Learn about UW Health's breast care services and resources available for patients: UW Health Breast Center