Judi Blue - Patient Story
“Dr. Goldstein may have saved my life.”
— Judi Blue, Breast Patient
They say attitude is everything, and breast cancer survivor Judi Blue is a prime example. She has spent over five years dealing with the disease—and nearly as long spreading uplifting messages of hope and tranquility to others going through the same ordeal. In fact, Judi’s positive attitude about cancer stretches back to before she was even diagnosed. Her yearly “birthday gift” helped Judi catch her cancer.
While some women consider their mammogram a minor annoyance—an unpleasant but important ritual of good breast health—Judi has thought of the procedure as her annual “birthday gift” since age 35, when she began screening early due to a non-cancerous condition called fibrocystic breast disease, as well as a family history of breast cancer.
Part of her extra-vigilant approach was to have a copy of each mammogram sent to her gynecologist for a second analysis—a technique that paid off in 2007. Although the radiologist at her local facility said the report was fine, her gynecologist noticed something suspicious—there appeared to be a lymph node in her breast tissue—and recommended she see a breast specialist. An ultrasound, an ultrasound-guided core biopsy and an MRI followed, finally confirming that Judi had a cancerous lump in her breast.
The lump was small, but complex. The majority, or 80 percent of the tumor was ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, a sometimes-malignant condition that does not spread outside of the milk duct. The remaining tissue was diagnosed as invasive ductal carcinoma, a more common, malignant cancer that spreads. She was told the prognosis was poor. Upon receiving this serious news, Judi started treatment right away.
“My mother had been treated for breast cancer in 1995 at Fox Chase and had always sung its praises,” Judi remembered. Wanting the same quality care for herself, she opted to have her lumpectomy performed at Delaware County Memorial Hospital, a Fox Chase Cancer Center Partner hospital, which was conveniently located near her home.
At the same time as the lumpectomy, Judi’s surgeon removed some surrounding lymph nodes for a biopsy to make sure the cancer had not spread. “She was so skilled that she did the lumpectomy and biopsy in the same scar in my armpit which looked like a normal fold in my armpit by the time the incision healed,” Judi explained.
Next in Judi’s treatment regimen was chemotherapy, for which she sought the guidance of Dr. Lori Goldstein, a Fox Chase medical oncologist who came highly recommended by her radiologist at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. It may have been a life-saving decision.
“Dr. Goldstein wanted to administer my chemotherapy dose every two weeks rather than three, which is what you would get at most other hospitals,” Judi said. “That could have been it, right there, that saved my life.”
Judi was equally impressed with the other staff she met at Fox Chase, particularly a nurse named Karon Martyn. “She was extremely empathetic and caring—just an incredible woman,” Judi recalled. “I can’t imagine seeing people in this condition day after day and it not taking its toll on you.”
“All of the nurses were amazing. I just can’t imagine them being that compassionate everywhere,” she added. “The nurses in the infusion room, in particular, were so comforting and empathetic. Perhaps I'm unusual, but it made the experience almost delightful.”
Judi returned to Delaware County Memorial Hospital for the last leg of her treatment which was radiation therapy, that concluded in late 2007. Still, her struggles with cancer were not over yet.
In 2009, Judi began noticing purple lesions near her lumpectomy scar. After several biopsies, an MRI, and a year of monitoring, doctors discovered cancer once again. In 2011, she underwent a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. She returned to work 6 weeks later, which was the longest break she ever took throughout treatment from her job as an administrative officer for the City of Philadelphia social work department.
Much has been made of the healing power of art for cancer patients, something to which Judi can attest. Just after her first round of cancer treatment, Judi developed an unusual and transformative hobby; one that helped her, and in turn others, cope with cancer.
In 2008, she received a surprise phone call. It was a medical masseuse she had seen during her treatment. The masseuse remembered the hand-crocheted garments Judi would often wear, and wondered if she would put her artistic abilities to use in another medium: painting. There was one catch: she was to use her breasts as a paintbrush. "At first, I thought it was a strange request, but she wanted to raise money for breast cancer patients," said Judy, who gave it a chance and the results were miraculous.
“It’s a wonderful mode of art therapy which helped me heal from some deeper issues associated with breast cancer which I could otherwise perhaps not express in words,” she explained. “It enabled me to delve deeper and create some sunshine on a rainy day for myself and others.” Her first painting of this type sold at a gallery for $50 to a medical oncologist, no less.
“I thought: this touched someone who wasn’t sick,” she said. “Imagine what it could do for someone who was sick!”
Ever since, Judi has been creating original designs using this unique method, and distributing them whenever possible to others with cancer. She has put her designs on postcards, calendars, envelope openers, watches, purses, necklaces and key chains—often with inspirational words to accompany them. She distributes the keepsakes at breast cancer support groups and events—and any time she hears that someone has been diagnosed.
“I have so much to say to others because I know what I had to tell myself every day,” Judi explained. “Having breast cancer has really been a gift to me. It helped me turn something ugly into something beautiful.” It all comes down to that one guiding principle: always keep a positive attitude.
“The message I’m communicating is: ‘You’re an extraordinary person. That’s why something extraordinary happened to you,’” Judi explained. “You have to think about it differently.”