My Story
Breast cancer survivors in their own words

Every cancer patient has a story to tell. These strong SJ breast cancer survivors share their experiences of challenges and inspiration while battling the disease.  


They told me I would lose my hair between the first and second chemo treatments, and they suggested I get it cut short. I cried – it was really hard. Not because I never had short hair before; it was just that I had no choice. I started to get used to the short hair, then about a week ago, it started to fall out. I would go to wash my hair in the shower, and my hands would be covered with a slick of hair. I’d wake up, and there’d be hair everywhere. It would get in my mouth when I slept. I dreaded getting a shower and getting into bed. I dreaded touching my hair. One morning I woke up, and I had a big bald spot. I showed my kids. I didn’t want to freak them out, and they said, “It’s OK, mom,” and they were so supportive. Later that day, I was alone, and I thought, “I have to do this.” The only thing I had in the house was dog grooming clippers! I took a big swath across the top of my head, because I knew once I did that I’d have to take it all off. So I did it. And then I laughed, and I thought, “It’s just hair.” I saw all that hair sitting in the sink, and I thought, “You know what? I’m going to own this.” The next morning, I went to the gym, and I didn’t want to wear a hat or a baseball cap or a wig. Everyone at the gym was amazing, they were all hugging me. It was phenomenal. I sat at Starbucks today having coffee, and I was bald – and it was ok.
– Kathleen Covert-Minnino, Moorestown 


After I found a lump during a self-exam, I was nervous, but I went through the steps of getting it checked out. Ironically, the lump didn’t show up on the mammogram, but it did show up on an ultrasound, so my doctor decided to do a biopsy. Three days later, my husband and I met with him for the results. He shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, you saved your life.” He said it in a compassionate way, but the moment he said it, I felt like my legs were going to give out and all the air left my body. My world was spinning – I felt like I was inside a snow globe and someone had just shaken it and everything was swirling around me.
– Judy Stokes, Moorestown 


I was diagnosed in 2010, so it’s been eight years. Everyone deals and copes with it differently, but when I was done with treatment, it hit me harder than when I was going through it all. It was like I had post-traumatic stress disorder. My adrenaline had been pumping and I was doing everything I had to do, and then afterward, you think, “What just happened?” Your norm is forever changed. It took me a while to accept that it would always be part of my world, so I had to find a way to continue with my daily living and find a happy ground. Each year that goes by and you get good results in your follow-up testing, it gets a little easier to get back to some kind of norm. But it’s always there in your mind.
– Donna Forman, Cherry Hill 


They caught it in time – I was lucky. And because I chose to do a double mastectomy, I didn’t have to do chemo or radiation. But I had to stop breastfeeding my daughter, who is 2 years old. I also have another daughter, a 19-year-old. I kept thinking: “Oh my god, am I not going to be here for them?” That’s what I was nervous about, like, “Will my 2-year-old remember me?”
– Yvette Claudio, Collings Lake 


I found my lump while taking a shower one night. I’m a nurse, so I knew exactly what I was feeling. I kept trying to convince myself it was nothing, but then my mind would say, “Don’t be stupid – you know exactly what it is.” When the doctor confirmed that it was cancer, I said, “I know. You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know.”
– Helene Loeb, Cherry Hill 


During my treatment, I knew I needed to smile somehow, and I needed to make my village smile too. So how do you make cancer fun? I made the most out of losing my hair by stocking up on brightly colored wigs and hats and scarves. I consulted with the cancer center valets as to what color wig I should wear for my next treatment. Should I be a bleached blonde, or a goth? Should I be a redhead or wear the teal, the pink or the purple, or should I be Lady Gaga? My village smiled with joy seeing who I was going to be each day. I’m grateful my village made me smile and laugh when I really wanted to cry.
– Susan Nurge, West Deptford 


I had eight weeks of radiation, four days a week. My breast burned from that. When it was over, I had to take a pill for five years. I belong to this quilting group, and when I told them I had breast cancer, they said, “If there’s anything you need, let us know.” And I said, “Do one thing for me: Get a mammogram. Don’t let a year go by. Write it on the calendar, do it on your birthday – just do it.”
– Regina Jones, Cherry Hill 


I was just 47 years old when a routine mammogram detected a lump. I had no family history of breast cancer, so it was shocking. It absolutely never crossed my mind that I would get breast cancer. But from the very first moment my doctor told me it was cancer, there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to beat it. I was 100 percent sure, and I never waivered.
– Terri Akman, Voorhees 


I learned that the very worst thing you can do is feel sorry for yourself. I once had a friend say to me – she was quoting her father, who suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years before dying – “Why me? Why is this happening to me?” She said his second thought was, “Well, would I wish it on someone else? I certainly wouldn’t wish it on someone else – it happened to me for a reason, and I’ll deal with it.” His words come to my mind quite often. You can’t say, “Why me?” because you wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone else either.
Linda Ficca, Marlton  


I’m a two-time survivor. The first time I was diagnosed it was in 2000; I was a new mom at that time. We had a young daughter who was less than a year old, then my second diagnosis came shortly before my five-year anniversary. I took a very, very aggressive approach with my doctors, knowing my mom had died at the age of 45 from ovarian cancer. Was I absolutely shocked? Yes, but I knew there was always a possibility it would come back. I am a big proponent on being very aware of your body and doing self-exams. That’s what saved my life the first time, and it’s what saved my life the second time.
– Deb Eckenhoff, Lumberton 


This is a very special year for me, because March 25, 1998 is when I had my mastectomy. So I’m celebrating 30 years. I was 35 years old – it was pretty intense. I didn’t know anyone who had survived cancer. So when they told me I had a malignant lump, I thought, “OK, how is this going to play out?” I’d lost my father, a father-in-law, friends, school mates – literally everyone I knew who had cancer died from it. There was no option not to fight. The alternative was to sit down and die. The option was to fight for my life – literally.
– Charlene Vitale, Williamstown 


It changes a lot. The things I used to worry about, I don’t worry about anymore. They’re minor. When I first got diagnosed, it changed my whole focus. Relationships with people have changed, for the better.  Family is more important than my job. Life is more important; experiences are more important.
– Lisa Fagley, Palmyra  


The hardest part of finding out I had cancer was having to tell my kids. They were 13, 10 and 8 when I was diagnosed. I didn’t want breast cancer to change the way we lived. So we made sure I had chemo on Tuesdays, and I could rest all week. The community stepped up and helped with things like food shopping and homework, so if I was going to spend energy on doing three things in a week, it would be going to the school play, the basketball game and cheerleading competition. I think we succeeded at keeping things somewhat normal.
– Kristin Hurley, Medford Lakes 

April 2018
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