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Kathy Petrozelli - Patient Story

"I want to be around to enjoy the next chapter in my life. Now I can be confident that I will."

— Kathy Petrozelli, Breast Cancer Survivor

 

Kathy and Dr. Sameer Patel, her plastic and reconstructive surgeon.Kathy and Dr. Sameer Patel, her plastic and reconstructive surgeon.Breast cancer was always in the back of my mind, since my mother was treated for both breast and ovarian cancer. Knowing that family history raises a woman’s risk for these cancers, I made sure I had a mammogram every year since I turned 29.

I also had another risk factor for cancer—my weight. In 2003, my gynecologist asked me, “What are you going to do with your 10-year-old daughter when you’re not here any longer because of your weight?” I signed up for Weight Watchers that day, and after a couple years of hard work, I became a success story. In 2005, I reached my goal by losing 120 pounds. I then started working for Weight Watchers and maintained my weight.

Life was good. I was finally healthy and starting to live my life. I was very active and worked full-time as a legal secretary. I was doing things I always enjoyed—camping, kayaking, and attending my daughter’s softball games. I was also teaching Catholic education and co-leading a Girl Scout troop. 

Then came the news I feared. A routine mammogram disclosed a small tumor in my left breast.

When I was first diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer, I was shocked, even though I screened for it every year. I was diagnosed at the same age my mother was when she was diagnosed. I knew that the screening was super important, and that’s why I did it so faithfully. When the radiologist told me what he saw, he also told me that it was found very early. Because of my mammogram, my breast cancer was caught at 0.6 cm. Still, my life stopped and became all about breast cancer.

Kathy and her husband, Mike.Kathy and her husband, Mike.

I decided to consult with cancer specialists at a local hospital in New Jersey. Genetic testing revealed I was a carrier of BRCA2, a genetic mutation that increased my risk for breast cancer and recurrence. I went to Fox Chase Cancer Center for a second opinion. I liked the way my Fox Chase consults went, and I decided to remain a patient at Fox Chase.

Emotionally, I was not ready to hear the word “mastectomy,” and I told the doctors I absolutely did not want one. I opted for a lumpectomy, knowing that I had a high risk for recurrence. Not long after the lumpectomy in 2008, I decided to have a full hysterectomy to rule out any risk for ovarian cancer and decided to also undergo a simple bilateral mastectomy. I knew I had about an 85 percent chance of the breast cancer coming back. I had sought opinions from doctors, family, and friends before making my decision. Everyone encouraged me to have the mastectomy, but I was not totally convinced until a doctor told me, “If you don’t have a mastectomy, you’re playing with fate.”

Kathy's event, Rally for the Cure golf outing.Kathy's event, Rally for the Cure golf outing.

The emotional aspect of a cancer diagnosis is something normal that most women go through because they’re so scared. Having the mastectomy and reconstruction was the hardest decision I’ve made in my life. But I did it for my husband and my daughter, whom I love very much. I want to be around to enjoy the next chapter in my life. Now I can be confident that I will.

I will never forget what the doctors at Fox Chase did for me and for my family. There is no doubt in my mind that they saved my life. I was impressed with everyone at Fox Chase. They proved to be some of the most compassionate, caring people I’ve ever met. They took me by the hand and walked me through what had to be done. They also did a fine job at controlling the pain.

Kathy runs a Rally for the Cure golf outing every July at Heron Glen Golf Course in Ringoes, NJ, which benefits Susan G. Komen.Kathy runs a Rally for the Cure golf outing every July at Heron Glen Golf Course in Ringoes, NJ, which benefits Susan G. Komen.

My last treatment was in 2013, but I still follow up regularly at Fox Chase. Since my diagnosis and treatments, my life has changed. I spend time with my husband and my daughter, a recent college graduate. I still work as a legal secretary and spend my free time traveling, camping, and swimming, but I also spend a lot of time trying to help other women who are diagnosed with cancer and who are having the surgeries that I had. It is important for me to see things go smoothly for other patients.

I’m a member of the Board of Associates at Fox Chase, I’m active in various breast cancer organizations, and I run a Rally for the Cure golf outing every July at Heron Glen Golf Course in Ringoes, NJ, that benefits the Susan G. Komen Central and South Jersey affiliate. This golf outing supports women who cannot afford a mammogram, and the money stays local to make sure women can get the basic care they need. Twenty-five percent of the money raised goes toward research and development. I believe that early detection of breast cancer is our best defense, and that women should receive their mammograms yearly starting at age 40 or earlier if they have a family history. Several Fox Chase employees, including Dr. Sameer Patel, have been attending the rally since its inception, and we have raised thousands of dollars. I’m also proud to say that I received the Power of One Award from Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which is the highest honor awarded by the organization.

Kathy Petrozelli and her daughter Frances, at a family celebration.Kathy Petrozelli and her daughter Frances, at a family celebration.

I tell women who are recently diagnosed with breast cancer to remain calm, go through the testing, and think positive because positivity works for emotional well-being.

 

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