One day, seven years ago, Dr. Charley Ferrer found a fairly large lump in her breast when she was doing a self-check. She went to her doctor and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was fifty-three years old, and, like most people, her first reaction was fear. “I cried. I was thinking I was going to die. My mother had died from breast cancer at age fifty-nine, two years before my diagnosis,” Dr. Charley remarks.
She started looking for information about breast cancer so she could know how to deal with it. The doctors wanted to remove both her breasts and her ovaries. After multiple surgeries and complications, Dr. Jacob Levitt, a dermatologist and infectious disease doctor at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, was able to save her breasts. However, the surgeons did have to remove portions of both breasts.
After the surgery, she was put on Anastrozole, a pill that lowers estrogen levels in postmenopausal women, which may slow the growth of certain types of breast tumors that need estrogen to grow in the body. After three months, she wanted to stop because of the bad side effects. That’s when she started alternative treatments and changed her lifestyle.
A year later, she got thyroid cancer and had her thyroid removed, but within three years, she was completely cancer-free. During this time, she started exercising and eating right. “I cut out all sugar. I did a lot of juicing. I did yoga and Reiki. My entire attitude towards living and how I interacted with people changed.”
Dr. Charley also contacted the American Cancer Society with questions she had and they would email her information or send her booklets. As she became more educated on breast cancer, she began to share the information with other cancer patients. From there, she started doing a television show about breast cancer and eventually founded a non-profit organization, the Cancer Tamer Foundation. Its motto is “You shouldn’t be at war with your body!”
Other people faced their own battles with breast cancer. Some stayed with traditional methods of treatment, while others used alternative methods or a combination of both.
Terry, an African-American woman, believed in following the doctor’s orders. She was very religious and also had a strong support system with her family.
Debra, another breast cancer patient, believed in following the doctor’s regimen but also believed in educating herself. She ended up with leukemia from the chemotherapy and radiation. Then, she started alternative treatments such as physical therapy, acupuncture and Reiki.
Brett was diagnosed with male breast cancer when he was in his mid-20s, but he had the cancer for seven years before the doctors discovered it. His mother and the rest of his family gave him a lot of support and he also turned to God for support. Brett and his mother started an organization called “Male Breast Cancer Happens” to educate men about breast cancer and give them support.
Jamie Lee was thirty-five when she was diagnosed with Stage 3b breast cancer. This means that the cancer had spread to the chest wall or breast skin, with evidence of swelling and inflammation. It also may have invaded some of the nearby lymph nodes. Jamie Lee had a lot of complications and did not get much support from her family. Fortunately, she received help from support groups.
Arnold was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer when he was in his fifties. He insisted his twenty-eight-year-old daughter get tested for breast cancer, even though younger women aren’t usually tested. They found that she had stage 3 breast cancer as well. The two went through treatment together.
Another case was Sam, who was headed out to fight in Vietnam. One of the doctors told him that he had some suspicious symptoms and they discovered breast cancer. Obviously, that disqualified him from military service. Sam admits that he did not talk about having breast cancer for more than forty years because he was ashamed.
Paul Dombroski, a quarterback with the Buccaneers, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of fifty-seven. He went public with the diagnosis and mounted a campaign to educate and support men with this disease and worked to erase the stigma that goes along with this diagnosis. Unfortunately, the mortality rate for men is higher because it’s often caught at a later stage.
What each of these people had in common was that they were fighters and didn’t give up. Their determination to survive and thrive, along with whatever treatments they underwent, was the key to overcoming breast cancer.
Dr. Charley Ferrer is knowledgeable about all phases of breast cancer and its ramifications. Along with starting the Cancer Tamer Foundation, she has created television shows and podcasts on this subject. Recently, her play, “Breast Cancer Diaries,” was performed at Stage West. For further information about the foundation, go to www.cancertamer.org.