“You are cancer-free.”
Many would think these are joyous words, marking the end of a battle with cancer. But for most cancer survivors, the battle continues with physical, emotional and economical struggles that often linger long after the cancer has left their bodies.
Christine Love of Wildwood Crest has a cancer story that began just as many others – with a lump, particularly a breast lump. She was living her everyday life working as a medical assistance for Cape Regional Physicians Associates, a job she has had for about 30 years now, when she found it. She decided to be extremely proactive about getting it checked out, immediately going for a mammogram and ultrasound, both of which proved negative.
As time went on, Christine realized that the lump was getting bigger. Another mammogram and ultrasound later, results were still proving negative. Her primary doctor sent her for a breast MRI, which again, showed nothing, so he told her to come back in three months for another ultrasound. After going back for a third ultrasound, the doctor referred her to a local general surgeon for a fine-needle aspiration biopsy to further investigate the lump.
As Christine lay on the table and the surgeon prepared for the biopsy, he claimed he could not feel the lump. “It was very large at this point,” says Christine. “I thought to myself, how could he miss it?” She sat up and the surgeon finally found it, but he laid her back down to complete the biopsy – something Christine did not agree with.
“He missed it,” Christine told her primary doctor with concern at her follow up appointment. The results came back negative yet again, and Christine was sure the surgeon missed the lump with his needle. After another three months, another ultrasound and another round of negative results, Christine’s doctor finally sent her to Dr. Anjeanette Brown in Egg Harbor Township, who has special expertise in one sole area: breast cancer.
When Christine went to Dr. Brown for a second fine-needle aspiration biopsy, Dr. Brown did it right – thoroughly, with Christine sitting up, and with an ultrasound. The results came back a few days later, and Dr. Brown told Christine, “We need to talk, young lady.”
The lump was cancerous, and it needed to be removed. Christine was filled with fear, but also a sense of relief, for she finally knew the truth after dealing with the unknown for so long.
The cancer had spread all the way up to her collarbone, and one lymph node had exploded. Three types of breast cancer were present: invasive lobular carcinoma, invasive ductal carcinoma and perineural invasion, which is relatively rare. “The scary thing about perineural invasion is that the cancer gets inside of your nerves and takes a different pathway to spread throughout your body, as opposed to spreading through your lymph nodes,” Christine shares.
Christine underwent a lumpectomy, and eventually a bilateral mastectomy. “I’m glad they took the other breast, it was all pre-cancerous,” she says. She also went through chemotherapy plus radiation, which ended on December 19, 2015. But the struggle hasn’t truly ended for Christine. Doctors are still exploring the perineural invasion, and Christine has had about eight surgeries since her mastectomy. Additionally, she will undergo another surgery and a CAT scan due to a nodule doctors found on her lung back in June, and they are currently keeping an eye on a second one. Just two months before, in April, she was clean.
“So, that’s my story, but it isn’t over yet,” Christine states. “I’m living and breathing, but I’m also fighting.”
Christine’s advice for women is this: If you have a lump, don’t trust the machines. She highly encourages women who find a lump to go to a breast specialist – not a general surgeon – and have it removed and biopsied. “It’s a proven fact that these machines can miss a lot of cancer. Ask any specialist – the only conclusive way is to have a lumpectomy and a biopsy. No matter what the machines show, you have to be in control of your own body and speak up,” Christine emphasizes. “My experience was awful, and while the general surgeon missed the lump, I was walking around with it growing inside of me.”
Christine’s journey has been draining, both physically and financially, especially while trying to live on a single income. Lucky for her, many organizations like Survivors of Cancer, Inc. (S.O.C.s) are dedicated to helping those like Christine in their struggles with cancer.
S.O.C.s mission is to raise funds, through various events, to aid and assist in the fight against the devastating disease of cancer and donate all monies collected to Cape May County cancer patients in treatment.
“In the beginning of my journey with cancer, a friend of mine put my name in as someone who needed help, and they helped. S.O.C.s sent me two checks during my chemo and radiation, and it really helped with things like food and a few bills,” Christine explains. “I felt like crying at the fact that somebody actually cared and wanted to help.”
This year, S.O.C.s is celebrating its 15th anniversary helping the community fight against cancer. The organization recently held its 15th Annual Summer Fundraiser at the Bolero Resort in Wildwood on August 13, 2016, one of two big fundraising events held annually. The local community and businesses came out in full force to support S.O.C.s, with an overwhelming total of approximately 600 people in attendance. Per tradition, Jerry Boyle, Entertainment Chairman of S.O.C.s, served as Master of Ceremonies, introducing many local entertainers who have helped support the organization in years past. S.O.C.s committee members would like to thank all who attended, and many others who donated to the cause, for helping them help others in Cape May County who are diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment.
The second fundraising event S.O.C.s holds annually is the “Welcome to Summer” Beef and Beverage at Flip Flipz Bar & Grill in North Wildwood, held this year on May 14, 2016.
S.O.C.s continues to work tirelessly in innovating new fundraising concepts and spreading word of its mission. The committee states that their main goal is to spread awareness so that those who need help know that S.O.C.s can be a resource. “I am very happy and fortunate that there are resources like S.O.C.s out there,” says Christine. “Every little bit helps.”
Many people with cancer will say that once you’ve had cancer, there is a deep desire and passion to give back, and it’s true. Christine hopes that when she is healthy once again, she can participate in charity work and raise money for S.O.C.s and all of the other organizations that have helped her.
But for now, she continues to fight.