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Linda Angello - Patient Story

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"Cancer made my whole outlook on life change for the better."

— Linda Angello

I was called back for a retest after my routine annual mammogram in October 2004, which came as no surprise. I had been retested in previous years as a precaution, but nothing abnormal had been detected. This time, however, the doctor also scheduled me for an ultrasound. When a suspicious area was detected on the ultrasound, a biopsy revealed early stage breast cancer.

The doctors at my regional hospital presented me with several treatment options. I was inclined to move ahead with a lumpectomy, but my daughter encouraged me to seek a second opinion at Fox Chase Cancer Center. I scheduled an appointment with surgical oncologist Dr. Elin Sigurdson at Fox Chase. After meeting with Dr. Sigurdson to discuss the best course of action, I had no doubt that I would receive the most sophisticated treatment available.

The truth is that I really didn’t have time for all this. I was the primary caregiver to my 94-year-old mother, and I had 2 children, a job, a husband, and a home to take care of. I remember telling Dr. Sigurdson that my biggest concern about my cancer treatment was not for myself but how I was going to take care of my mother. I had always put my own needs on the backburner, so this was a real wake-up call.

I felt as though I was in the best hands professionally with Dr. Sigurdson, and I also felt comforted by the personal touch provided by everyone at Fox Chase. They truly encouraged me and reminded me how important it was to take care of myself. From the nurse practitioners to the social workers, people in preadmissions, and Dr. Sigurdson’s secretary, I felt a connection and genuine concern for my wellbeing.

My first treatment was a lumpectomy in November 2004, which did not result in clean margins. Dr. Sigurdson performed a second procedure, but again the surrounding tissues were not clear of cancer cells. At that point, my diagnosis was ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is considered a stage 0 pre-cancer. Because the DCIS did not show up on any tests other than the pathology results of the removed tissues, I was uncomfortable ending my treatment.

After considering all my options, I decided to undergo a double mastectomy in January 2005, 2 days before my 50th birthday. The plastic surgeon performed reconstructive surgery the same day. The surgeon inserted a temporary expander that would slowly allow saline implants to be expanded over the following months. I went home 2 days after the mastectomy and within 2 weeks was working an abbreviated schedule.

After talking to several oncologists about different treatment plans, I decided to stay with Fox Chase and with medical oncologist Dr. Lori Goldstein. I started taking a daily dose of tamoxifen and worked with Dr. Goldstein to monitor my hormone levels. In 2010, Dr. Goldstein and I decided that I no longer needed follow-up treatment and that I could discontinue tamoxifen.

Soon after my surgery, I joined efforts to support other women who had breast cancer. I was so fortunate to have a dear friend, a breast cancer survivor herself, who supported me through my experience, and I wanted to do the same for others. Women being treated for breast cancer may have a great support system with their family and friends, but it is nothing compared to talking to someone who has personally experienced a cancer diagnosis. I have worked with several organizations over the past several years, including Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the American Cancer Society. I received an honor for my work with Living Beyond Breast Cancer at the Susan G. Komen Celebrate Life luncheon in 2010.

I tell people all the time that breast cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me, except, of course, for the cancer part. I never would have met all of the wonderful people who changed my life. Doctors, medical professionals, members of nonprofit organizations, other marvelous survivors—none of these people would have entered my life without my cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Cancer made my whole outlook on life change for the better.

Dr. Goldstein and I are in this thing for the long haul, and I will be working with her for the rest of my life. I feel comfortable with her, and I believe she is committed to identifying the best and most appropriate treatment plan for me.

My new mantra is that if it feels good and it doesn’t hurt anyone, I’m going to do it. Life is too short, so every day is a gift. Make it special. I hope my experience and my words of encouragement will inspire other women battling breast cancer to feel the same way.

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