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Tracy Gatto - Patient Story

"Dr. Sigurdson and Dr. Topham were uplifting and always positive."

— Tracy Gatto, Breast Cancer Survivor

 

I detected a lump in my right breast when I was 28, and I instinctively knew something was seriously wrong. I had lost my father to lung cancer just three years before, in 2008, and I had moved back in with my mom after his death.

My mom and I were both terrified when I found the lump. I called my doctor right away, and she sent me for a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound and biopsy at a community hospital. The diagnosis was breast cancer. I wasn’t comfortable with the doctor I saw at the hospital, and so my mother and I decided to seek a second opinion at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

At Fox Chase I met with Dr. Elin Sigurdson, who reviewed by medical history and sent me for testing for genetic mutations, BRCA1 and 2, which can increase a person’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer. I tested positive for BRCA1, which helped determine my treatment plan. My mother was also tested and she was negative, which means I must have inherited the gene from my dad.

I immediately felt confident about Dr. Sigurdson’s ability to treat me. She was compassionate and warm. She began my treatment with a course of chemotherapy, not only because I was positive for BRCA1, but also because the node biopsy showed that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.

Next was surgery and reconstruction. Dr. Neal Topham, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Fox Chase, explained my options. After talking with him, I decided to have a free TRAM flap procedure after the bilateral mastectomy. In a free TRAM flap, the surgeon performs microsurgery to remove the fat, skin, blood vessels, and muscle from the wall of the lower belly and uses them to reconstruct the breast.

After the surgery and reconstruction, I spent a few days in the hospital. Dr. Sigurdson and Dr. Topham were uplifting and always positive. They made me feel good and very relieved. With my mom by my side, we fought my cancer together. We often refer to the experience as “our cancer.”

The nurses at Fox Chase were amazing. It really takes a special person to work at Fox Chase. Everyone I met had a smile on their face and was incredibly positive. As a receptionist myself, I knew it can be a struggle to stay positive all day long. It’s hard to make cancer a positive experience, but I never left feeling discouraged. Instead, I felt like I was kicking cancer in the butt!

I continued to be monitored in the survivorship clinic by nurse practitioner Kathryn Tumelty. Because I have the BRCA1 genetic mutation, I am at increased risk of ovarian cancer. I have met with Dr. Elias Obeid, a medical oncologist in the Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase. He referred me to Dr. Cynthia Bergman, a surgical gynecologist, to discuss the possibility of undergoing a prophylactic oophorectomy to remove my ovaries.

I am grateful that my experience with cancer has brought my family closer together and that I never let the cancer define who I am. We continued our activities and family-focused events, and my good sense of humor helped all of us deal with my situation. Cancer brought people back into my life with whom I had lost touch. In the end, I think I am a better person because of what I overcame.

My dogs and cats also helped lift my spirits during my treatment. Since 2012, my family and I have participated in Paws for the Cause, an annual dog walk and fundraiser hosted by Fox Chase. It gives me joy to give back to Fox Chase at an event that includes my dog.

Breast cancer research is well funded. If I had to get cancer, breast cancer was not so bad. At 28, breast cancer wasn’t on my radar, but I listened to my body and that may have saved my life. I hope other people can learn from my experience.

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