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Margaret Zuccotti - Patient Story

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"Dr. Goldstein is wonderful! I was totally confident in her ability to offer the most effective treatment available."

— Margaret Zuccotti, Inflammatory Breast Cancer, Stage IV

Each year on Mother's Day, thousands of Philadelphians participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. During the 5K race, breast cancer patients and survivors are easily identified by their pink shirts, while others sport white race shirts.

Margaret Zuccotti was the first survivor to cross the Race for the Cure finish line five years in a row.

From 2008-2012, the first pink shirt to cross the finish line was Margaret Zuccotti. She was also the first in her family to have stage IV inflammatory breast cancer.

From 2008-2012, the first pink shirt to cross the finish line was Margaret Zuccotti.From 2008-2012, the first pink shirt to cross the finish line was Margaret Zuccotti.

In the fall of 2006, Margaret was thoroughly enjoying motherhood. While nursing her 3rd baby, Margaret experienced symptoms of mastitis, or a breast infection. Her breast was red, tender, swollen and painful to the touch. Her doctor prescribed antibiotics, which did not work. After several tests, Margaret was referred to a breast surgeon for answers.

"A surgeon at another Philadelphia hospital diagnosed me with inflammatory breast cancer — stage IV," she recalls. This news came as both a shock and surprise to Margaret, who was only 37 at the time, because breast cancer does not run in her family.

Stage IV means the breast cancer has spread to other organs. In Margaret's case, there were multiple tumors on her liver and one in the bone near her eye.

Doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York recommended that Margaret see Dr. Lori Goldstein at Fox Chase.

Margaret Zuccotti, an active mom, enjoys skiing with her three children!"My sister-in-law and her husband were both doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering at the time. They suggested I get a 'quick' diagnosis up there," Margaret shares. As soon as Margaret's doctor learned she was from Philadelphia, she says, "You are near Fox Chase. Lori Goldstein is the doctor you want to see."

During their first meeting, Lori Goldstein, MD, FASCO, ordered further testing which indicated that Margaret was HER2 positive and ER/PR negative--both factors which may increase the aggressiveness of the disease. Armed with this information and Margaret's test results, Dr. Goldstein developed a treatment plan that included 8 months of chemotherapy using a combination of the drugs taxol and herceptin.

Together with her team of doctors, Margaret decided to be aggressive against her cancer. In August 2009, under the guidance and advice of Dr. Goldstein and Richard J. Bleicher, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase, she underwent a mastectomy.

"Dr. Goldstein is wonderful! I was totally confident in her ability to offer the most effective treatment available."

"My husband and I believe that if and when my cancer comes back, then we'll only feel comfortable if we know we have done everything to combat it," admits Margaret, who has a lot of respect for her doctors at Fox Chase. "Dr. Goldstein is wonderful! I was totally confident in her ability to offer the most effective treatment available."

"The nurses at Fox Chase are outstanding."

"The nurses at Fox Chase are also outstanding. They always make me feel welcome," Margaret remembers. Due to her cancer's stage IV status, Margaret is still in treatment at Fox Chase. She comes to the center every three weeks for her infusion. Thought she has been declared 'cancer free', she must remain vigilant and a lifetime of treatment is something she has come to accept.

An avid athlete all her life, Margaret believes exercise helped ease her recovery. "I felt pretty good the whole time I was on chemotherapy because I exercised regularly." Margaret walked, swam and biked during the early months of chemotherapy. Eventually, she started running again. She believes that staying active helped move the medicine through her body. "My husband, Andy, helped to keep our lives as regular as possible. He gave me his unwavering support, which helped me get through every day," she shares.

At Fox Chase, Margaret felt a true connection to her treatment team, especially one of Dr. Goldstein's fellows who was a thyroid cancer survivor himself. "He was thoughtful and kind and entertained my questions to which there were no answers, like, 'How long is this going to take?' and 'What does my future look like?'"

The chemotherapy was successful and Margaret's follow-up tests showed no cancer in her body. "The drugs wiped out the cancer in my breast, as well as the eye socket and spots on my liver. I was amazed at how well my body responded to treatment," recalls Margaret. Since June of 2007, Margaret has been NED which means she has 'No Evidence of Disease'. Such a statement is very uncommon in stage IV breast cancer patients and she knows how lucky she is to be cancer free.

Margaret and her family continue to live knowing there is a possibility that the "2000 pound gorilla sleeping in the corner" - breast cancer - may come back. But she does not let it stop her from participating in all the sports she loves, including running, skiing, lacrosse and salt water fly fishing with her husband.

"Cancer is so tough on spouses and children. And my family have responded like heroes!"

Margaret and her daughter Emma, Race for the Cure.Margaret and her daughter Emma, Race for the Cure."Life is precious. Through this experience, we appreciate the importance of staying in touch with friends and family because their support is invaluable," explained Margaret.

In 2010, Margaret came up with an idea to spread this support to other families. She founded the Louise S. Mauran Book Fund at Fox Chase, which gives free children's books to families with small children to help them deal with cancer in the family. Because Margaret's children were so young, she was very worried about how they would cope with her diagnosis. Through the book project, she hopes to help other parents in a similar situation. In addition, Margaret has been elected to the board of Living Beyond Breast Cancer, based in Bala Cynwyd, PA, where she volunteers for their patient Helpline. She has also organized a book project called Reading for Reassurance which LBBC utilizes. Connecting with other patients has been one of the greatest benefits of this experience.

 Margaret Zuccotti, 2016Margaret Zuccotti, 2016"Without the support of others, I would have felt very alone on this journey,” explains Margaret. "Thanks to Fox Chase and Living Beyond Breast Cancer, I feel that I can look ahead and feel hopeful about my future."

 

 

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