A fighter’s take on the disease and her four keys to survival
HOW DO YOU TELL YOUR CHILD you have been diagnosed with breast cancer — especially when that child already knows the loss of this devastating disease? For Central Florida resident Samantha Haverty Wiemer, not telling her son, Russell, about her diagnosis wasn’t an option. He “watched his grandmother (father’s side) pass away from breast cancer last year,” she shares. “I knew this diagnosis would scare him. I will never forget the day I picked him up from school and told him, ‘I have breast cancer.’ ” However, Russell had already played a pivotal role in Samantha’s diagnosis, and she’s all about living life to the absolute fullest since her diagnosis and following treatment. “I believe with children it’s all about perspective and education,” Samantha says. “I told him, ‘You saved my life’ and I will always believe that.”
The statistics say that you will know some woman, like Samantha, who is or has been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her diagnosis inspired her to start a site called ScrewPink to help her and other women kick cancer’s butt. This is her story and her advice.
RECOMMENDATION #1: BE VIGILANT AND CATCH IT EARLY
Mammograms are recommended for women every year starting at age 40, but they are not infallible. “I was a good girl and did my yearly mammograms. I had a mammogram in December of 2014, and I still have the ‘all-clear’ letter,” she asserts. “To be fair, I’m a huge supporter of mammograms, but, unfortunately, they do not catch everything. It’s so important for women to do self-exams!” she stresses.
In an odd series of fortunate events that Samantha considers a miracle, her rarely ill son became sick with a cough in the spring of 2015 that he passed on to her. “I ended up with the worst cough of my life,” she recalls. “That Friday in April I went in for severe pain, which felt like it was in my right breast.” In another twist of fate, her doctor, Dr. Radivilov, decided to be safe and check it out. He found what felt like “a little speed bump,” Samantha remembers.
That Saturday he sent her for an ultrasound at Watson Clinic’s Women’s Center. One ultrasound quickly turned to two, which turned into a mammogram, which turned into a biopsy. When radiologist Dr. Burke introduced the idea of cancer, “I asked her to please do the biopsy that day,” Samantha shares. The following Thursday Dr. Burke called with the devastating results. “I knew I not only had breast cancer, but it had spread to my lymph nodes. It was the moment my world changed. When all the dust settled, my diagnosis was stage II ER+ ductile carcinoma.”
While at the time of diagnosis Samantha was stunned — “I was told it was going to be a roller coaster, and that was an understatement” — she’s thankful it was found at all. As with all cancers, catching breast cancer as early as possible is vital.
RECOMMENDATION #2: CONTROL YOUR TREATMENT
There’s no denying that a breast cancer diagnosis ultimately is out of one’s control, but Samantha decided to focus on controlling the few things she could. The first was her treatment. “After being diagnosed, I went into breast cancer mode. It was like I was planning an event. I had to coordinate doctor visits, CT scans, MRIs, bone scans, second opinions, surgery dates … you name it,” she says.
Treatment began quickly. “On May 6, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction and port placement. Dr. Dupont and Dr. Kazmier of Watson Clinic Women’s Center did my surgery, and I could not be happier … One of the things that amazed me is that they perform this surgery at LRMC outpatient!” she explains. “I had a six-hour surgery and was home that night.”
Next came therapy. “For the oncology piece and chemotherapy, I went for a second opinion at Moffitt. I’m seeing Dr. Minton, and she’s been a dream,” Samantha says. For treatment, she is “enduring” eight rounds of dense-dose chemotherapy. “It is given every two weeks instead of every three,” she elaborates. “It doesn’t give the cancer cells time to recover and hits them while they are down!” While admitting it is painful, she maintains that her treatment is going well.
RECOMMENDATION #3: CHOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE
Samantha also focuses on the one other thing she can control: her attitude. “As cliché as it sounds, attitude is everything. I began with the attitude that I am not a statistic!” she asserts. Her style is a little tongue-in-cheek. “While breast cancer is not funny, I’m making the best of it and sharing my battle in a comical, candid way on ScrewPink! I’m sharing the ins and outs, the tears, the frustration, and whatever I can make fun of along the way! I hear that my attitude has helped many women. When people refer to it as inspiring, I’m still in awe that I’m encouraging others,” she reflects.
RECOMMENDATION #4: BUILD A SUPPORT NETWORK
Samantha confides that her support network has made all the difference. “My husband has been the backbone of my support,” she explains, adding that they were set to get married just as she was diagnosed. “I remember giving him an out,” she shares. “Who wants to marry a woman with cancer? I told him we could wait, and his response was, ‘Hell, no!’ ”
She also upholds that her own mother, Julie, and mother-in-law, Cyndi, have been amazing cleaning, cooking, and helping out. “I’m very fortunate to have two loving mothers,” she avows. Samantha also acknowledges that her friends have been great as well. “I’m so fortunate to have the family and friends I do in my life, and all have remained in full force.” She advises those who have friends dealing with breast cancer to say, “I’m here for you,” and be there. “Offer to deliver meals,” she suggests. “If you don’t cook, send a gift card, clean for them, or help with their children. All of these things meant so much to me.”
She also believes that getting involved with a support group or community like ScrewPink also is a stellar idea. “Breast cancer is a club you never want to be a part of, but you feel so blessed to be a part of a group of supporters and survivors after diagnosis,” Samantha assures. The ScrewPink Facebook page is filled with uplifting messages, prayers, and shared stories from other women. “It has truly been therapeutic for me to share my story,” Samantha says. “I’ve had several women come forward to tell me that because of me sharing they scheduled their mammograms or are now doing self-exams. Sharing stories, having women share theirs with me, and using it as a platform to educate, even if it’s only a few, gives me purpose. I had to find purpose in having this nasty disease.” Samantha definitely found her purpose, and kicking breast cancer’s butt is next on her list.
story by ERIKA ALDRICH
portrait by PEZZIMENTI