October is #BreastCancerAwarenessMonth – a time to support breast cancer patients, celebrate survivorship, and encourage prevention and early detection. Those who experience breast cancer, including patients, survivors, supporters, and caregivers, summon incredible amounts of power and strength. Below, our associates share their stories and speak on the importance of early detection, prevention, awareness, and support.
VP Finance, Shared Services | Survivor
Tam was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2019.
It was a shock to Tam when her annual mammogram revealed she had stage 3 breast cancer. “I would get my annual physical and mammogram every year,” says Tam. Several years prior, there was an error in reading her mammogram results. “I discovered that you must advocate for yourself. I needed to take responsibility for my care,” she expresses. Her initial biopsy diagnosed her with stage 1 breast cancer, but an ultrasound later identified it as stage 3.
Tam underwent eight weeks of radiation after a double mastectomy. During the height of COVID in 2020, she had reconstructive surgery. During this time, Tam came to understand that mental health is just as important as physical care. “I was having nightmares after surgery. Seeing a therapist helped me work through that fear and gave me reassurance that my feelings were normal,” Tam shares.
“I did not want it to impact my children or their plans,” Tam discloses. “I waited 10 days after my diagnosis to tell my children. We women are always the caregivers. I had to learn as a parent to accept help.”
Her advice is not to go through cancer alone. Tam wishes she had told her family and friends earlier on. “People want to help,” she emphasizes.
Physical Security Coordinator | Supporter
Savannah was just 12 years old when her mother, Michelle, was diagnosed with breast cancer after discovering a lump.
Michelle had a double mastectomy, hysterectomy, and chemotherapy treatments. She took medication for the next 5 years. It would be almost 8 years before she was able to get reconstructive surgery. She has been a survivor for 15 years now.
Savannah explains, “Sometimes what people with cancer need is just someone to do the laundry or drop off dinner. A lot of people don’t understand what the experience is like or how to help.”
Savannah advocates that early detection is incredibly important and not to wait until an annual physical or visit. When she was in high school, Savannah discovered a lump in her breast and sought care after witnessing her mother’s experience. Later, the lump was found to be benign, but Savannah continually gets MRI follow-ups and mammograms.
“You must be your own health advocate, if something hurts or doesn’t seem right, get checked and don’t let it fall by the wayside. Don’t be afraid to switch providers if you don’t like the direction of your care,” she urges.
VP Operations, Distech Controls | Survivor
Elisabeth was 35 years old when she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer.
Elisabeth sought the care of her provider after experiencing changes in her health. “Know there are symptoms other than just a lump,” she advises. “Always check out anything unusual in your heath. I have a healthy lifestyle and would not have suspected cancer. Catch it as early as possible because the success rate with early detection is very high. It is easier to kill a monster when it is still very small.”
After a partial mastectomy, some cancer remained, and Elisabeth chose to undergo a full mastectomy.
“Learn about yourself,” encourages Elisabeth. “The body is resilient; the mind is resilient. Surround yourself with the right medical support team. Educate yourself and understand the physical body as well as the psychological standpoint.”
Marketing Consultant | Supporter
Erin was 30 years old when she lost her mother to breast cancer. While pregnant with her second child and taking care of her 3-year-old, Erin learned that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 54.
Her mother had a double mastectomy, and the doctors were very optimistic about her prognosis. However, the cancer was deep and had gotten into her spinal fluid. It was only 2 months later that she passed. “My mom was able to make her decisions at the end,” Erin shares. “The bad part is seeing the pain and struggles of the treatments.”
Erin’s parents had been married for 30 years. Her dad took her mom to all her treatments and their church family was very supportive. “I saw the love and goodness of people, and the importance of being supported by family and friends,” says Erin. “The most difficult part is learning to live without her. It was hard to watch, but she handled it great and made it easier for all of us.”
Erin urges women to utilize everything within their healthcare plan. “Live the best version of yourself,” she declares. “Make yourself a priority. Be cautious about your food choices. Get treated as often as possible.” Since her mother’s passing, Erin sees her doctor every six months to get checked.
Director - Inside Sales, Healthcare Lighting / Luminaire LED | Survivor
Ann was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2019.
Ann had always been consistent in scheduling her mammograms, but into her forties she had let them slip. A friend’s Facebook post reminded her she needed to go get checked. The biopsy revealed she had stage 0 non-invasive cancer.
Ann says that many women shared their experiences and recommended doctors. She underwent surgery and radiation treatments. “I chose not to take medication after cancer having done thorough research and asking my doctor a lot of questions,” explains Ann. “My radiology oncologist was open minded, answered my questions and supported what I chose to do.”
Trying to keep a sense of normalcy was one of the most challenging parts of Ann’s cancer experience.
She says, “It was difficult to feel normal with all the appointments. It became hard not to think about it, so I didn't share right away.” Ann soon found her support system with her husband and friends.
Ann urges others to do your self-examinations and annual mammograms. “If you feel something is wrong, be your own advocate with your care team and doctors,” shares Ann. “Pay it forward. I had so many women who helped me. Do the same for others and put yourself out there.”
Program Manager, Intelligent Spaces Group | Supporter
Jackie’s wife, Ruth, was diagnosed with stage 3 triple negative breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer which spreads quickly. At the time, they had been together for four years.
After multiple rounds of chemotherapy, they weren’t seeing any progress. Jackie and Ruth were told to make plans and think about how they would like to spend the remaining time they had together. Toward the end of Ruth’s treatment, her condition began improving. She received radiation and is now healthy and in remission.
Through this experience, Jackie learned the importance of having a network of people who will be there for you and your loved ones. “It made me realize just how deeply you can feel about your loved ones, especially when navigating life’s challenges. I have such an appreciation for the time we have together.”
VP, Public Policy | Survivor
Cheryl was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in 2018.
Cheryl had no family history of breast cancer and had always been very diligent about her annual screenings. “No one ever expects to hear the words, ‘You have cancer.’ And with just those 3 words, your world is turned upside down.” Cheryl chose to have a partial mastectomy and after the first surgery, they found additional cancer in her ducts. She underwent a total of three surgeries and radiation and is cancer free today.
“The hardest part of my cancer journey was not the medical procedures. It was telling my husband and children that I have cancer. I felt that I had to be strong and positive for them.” Through her recovery, Cheryl said she learned that you don’t have to be strong every day, but a positive outlook is critical. She said it was important to accept help from her family and friends.
Cheryl reminds us that anyone can get breast cancer – it does not discriminate by age, gender, or race - but early detection is critical. “Conduct your monthly self-exams and do not skip a year with your screenings. My annual mammogram saved my life, and it can save your life too.”
Operator, Guadalupe Production Facility (GPF) Facility | Survivor
Cynthia was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. She shares what has inspired her to move on and fight, and a message to their colleagues, family, and friends. Below, she shares her story.
“When I was diagnosed with cancer, the truth is that I felt bad, and very sad. I have two children. At that time my girl was 15 years old and my boy, he was 11 years old. I asked myself if something happened to me, what are they going to do?
My motivation to keep going was my mother, my brothers, and my husband. My husband was always with me. He never left me alone. There is still a long way to go. One month ago I had a surgery. I am waiting for the results of that surgery from the biopsy. Most of all, my family's support always motivated me. And my workmates always showed support and never let me feel alone either.
The message I want to send is to take care of yourself, do self-examinations. Cancer is treatable when detected on time.”
María del Carmen Loredo
Operator, Guadalupe Production Facility (GPF) Facility | Survivor
Maria was diagnosed with stage 5 breast cancer. She wants associates to know that this disease is not exclusive to women. She invites men and women to inform and self-examine themselves as a preventive measure. Below, Maria shares her story.
“ Immediately after I turned 40 years old, I went to get a mammogram. The results said that I had stage 5 cancer. Right away the doctors did an ultrasound. The results were the same, I had stage 5 cancer. I saw the doctors' faces and I got scared. With the support and motivation of my family and friends, I am able to move forward.
Please, get check-ups. Don't leave this unattended because you are afraid. Breast cancer is treatable if it is detected on time. People are able move on and have a normal life. Maybe you are going to lose a part of your body, but that doesn't make us better or worse people. We are worthy inside.
Everybody needs check-ups, women and men. I met people during chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions who, unfortunately, passed away. I met a man who had breast cancer, but he was diagnosed too late because he had the belief that men don't suffer from breast cancer, that breast cancer is only a women's disease. It is not. Men can suffer from breast cancer, too. For breast cancer there is no age or gender.
Please, go to your doctor, do self-examinations, don't be afraid. There can be a solution if it is detected on time.”
One in 100 breast cancer cases in the U.S. is a male.
A chest pain prompted this survivor to see a doctor, who initially diagnosed the cause as a muscular issue. After a burning sensation developed, he underwent tests and eventually a mammogram which revealed he had stage 1 breast cancer. He and his family were in disbelief. “I did not have lumps,” he explains.
“There was only one option,” he says. “Mastectomy. I decided to do a double mastectomy to avoid any future occurrence of the cancer. I was offered reconstructive surgery but declined.” A survivor for 14 years, he sees a doctor annually for a check-up.
“If you have any kind of burning sensation in your chest or any lump, get it checked out. The sooner the better,” he urges males. “Men need to be aware – not afraid, but just know it can happen.” He shares that staying positive can get you through anything.