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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

At 37 years old, the enjoyment of motherhood was quickly replaced with fear when I began to experience some uncomfortable symptoms when nursing my three-month-old son, our third child. Symptoms of mastitis were evident, since my breast was red, tender, swollen, and painful to touch. When the antibiotics my doctor prescribed had no effect, I was referred to a breast surgeon for answers.

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.

It was November of 2006 when a breast surgeon at another Philadelphia hospital diagnosed me with Stage 4 breast cancer, and told me that the cancer had metastasized to my liver and the bone near my eye. The news came as a shock to me, since I didn’t have a history of breast cancer in my family. Worried and in need of a second opinion, I went to Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City, where the doctor there recommended that I see Dr. Lori Goldstein, a breast cancer oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

I met with Dr. Goldstein as soon as I could. Upon our meeting, she ordered further testing, which showed that I was HER2 positive and ER/PR negative, two factors that can increase the risk of aggressive disease.

Dr. Goldstein came up with a treatment plan for me: eight months of chemotherapy with a combination of the drugs taxol and herceptin. I was totally confident in Dr. Goldstein’s ability to offer the most effective treatment available. The drugs wiped out the cancer in my breast, as well as the tumor in my eye socket and the spots on my liver. I was amazed at how well my body responded to treatment, and attributed it to my motivation to stay active and fit even throughout my treatment.

In August 2009, about nine months after I was diagnosed, both Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Richard J. Bleicher, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase, recommended that I have a mastectomy. My husband and I decided it was best to do the most possible with my treatment. We believe that if and when my cancer comes back, then we will only feel comfortable if we know we have done everything to combat it. Throughout this time, I felt a genuine connection with my treatment team, especially one of Dr. Goldstein’s fellows who was a thyroid cancer survivor. He was thoughtful and kind and entertained my questions to which there were no answers, such as ‘How long is this going to take?’ and ‘What does my future look like?’

It has now been over 10 years since I learned of my cancer diagnosis. At the beginning, I had hoped that I could survive two years. Then at two years I was doing well so I thought maybe I would live five more years. Now, 10 years later, I know I have a long life with my wonderful family ahead of me. 

My association with Living Beyond Breast Cancer, an organization based in Bala Cynwyd, PA, dedicated to bringing people together who are living with metastatic breast cancer, has been very important to me over the past several years. I volunteered on their help line for five years. Each call is answered by a cancer survivor who offers to match the caller up with someone who can help. In addition to the amazing help line, Living Beyond Breast Cancer provides lots of free materials and has Twitter discussions about reconstruction surgery, nutrition, and quality of life topics. The organization has a conference each year and holds community meetings, webinars, workshops, and meet-ups. It has become my stable connection to people who have metastatic breast cancer.

I also continue to exercise and be active. I feel that walking, running, swimming, playing tennis—whatever made someone feel good before his or her diagnosis—should continue throughout treatment and recovery. I believe that because I was active before my diagnosis, I was able to stay active during my treatment, which is something that helped me mentally, as well.

I also recommend that people living with cancer read a new book called After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients after Cancer, written by three physicians. It is a great guidebook for when you finish your breast cancer treatment. It focuses on your mind and spirituality, and encourages journaling and meditation. It also focuses on nutrition and looks at what has actually been researched, and it covers the research about the benefits of staying active throughout treatment.

Margaret and her daughter, Emma, at Race for the CureMargaret and her daughter, Emma, at Race for the Cure

My oldest child was six when I was first diagnosed, so my cancer diagnosis has always been a part of the lives of my children. Every year in April I have a scan to detect any sign of cancer, and I tell them when I am going. It is always a concerning time. I remain cancer free today, but I still go back to Fox Chase every three weeks for an infusion with maintenance therapy, a regimen that I have been on for nine years and will probably be on for the rest of my life. My calendar now runs on this three-week cycle, which means that a lot of our family events and trips are scheduled around my therapy. However, I am pleased to be able to look at life in that way.

I love that every three weeks I continue to see nurses at Fox Chase whom I have known since the beginning of my cancer story. They ask about my children and remember that baby I brought with me 10 years ago, and we look at pictures of each other’s children, which is very special to me. Without the support of others, I would have felt very alone on this journey. 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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