Breast Cancer Awareness Month Spotlight: Lea Sylvestro

October is a jam-packed month. We’re fully in the swing of all things ‘fall’; pumpkin lattes, candy corn, jack-o’-lanterns, Halloween activities – the list could go on and on. October also represents Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A month filled with heroes, survivors, stories, challenges and hope.

I wanted to do something for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I looked to Lea Sylvestro, an amazing writer, wife of Dave, mother of Tucker and Casey, daughter, sister, friend, supporter, survivor. I wanted to hear her story, to better understand the feelings involved with breast cancer.

Lea is a Parent Liaison, working with children who have learning disabilities – helping to reinforce their skills. Lea got her job three weeks after college graduation and has been there ever since. She talked a little bit about how she discovered her love of writing in trying to make writing interesting for these kids who didn’t really like school.

Over the years she has done a lot for the school, including coordinating events and writing newsletters, etc. Even after only speaking with Lea for about an hour or so, I can only imagine the joy, enthusiasm and love she brings with her to work every day.

After turning fifty Lea said she sort of realized what she wanted to do and has a wonderful work schedule as a result. This includes staying home one day a week to write. Speaking of Lea’s writing, you must check out her blog.

But first, have a look at our chat.

CM: When were you diagnosed?

LS: “Mid-may of last year. I went in for a routine mammogram, to check it off my list. Next thing I know, Bonita called – one doesn’t forget these things – and I needed to have a biopsy.”

CM: When did you tell Dave?

LS: “After the call-back with the news.”

CM: When did you tell your kids?

LS: “I wanted to tell them face-to-face. Both Kids were going through their own things at the time. I didn’t want to dump this on them when they were already dealing with their own stuff. That was the hardest part about all of this – having to tell my kids and my parents. I waited because I wanted to tell them at the right time, when I had enough information. Dave was great through it all.”

CM:  Can you tell me a little bit about treatment?

LS: “July 1st I had a double mastectomy. They found microinvasive cells, so I needed chemo as well. Chemo started August 10th and went to November 30th. My Oncologist was an Integrative care specialist, an amazing person.

I never experienced any of the ‘horror’ stories – didn’t have the nausea. I went to work two days and two days I stayed home. Most of the time spent at home I felt like a ‘loser’. I called it my ‘loser time’, sitting around on the couch. I figured I’d take that over the nausea!”

CM: What was the worst part?

LS: “The worst part was losing my hair. You look in the mirror and see the same person you always were, but without hair. It makes you really feel like a ‘cancer patient’.

So I got a great wig and some scarves!

I remember when I was feeling better; we went to Block Island – like we always do every year with friends – and while on the ferry I saw a woman with a beautiful scarf on covering up her loss of hair. That was me the year before. So I went over and told her that it will all be okay. I told her I was in the same position as her the year before, and ‘look at me now’ – nice and healthy.”

CM: How did you prepare for the battle ahead after your diagnosis?

LS: “The post diagnosis – after I got over all the ‘first’ stuff. The fact that it’s not ‘me’, cancer wasn’t in my family. The fact that I’m a vegetarian, I’m thin, I walk, I take care of myself. After I got over that stuff and then once I selected my doctors – who love each other’s work  – I had my ‘superhero team’ and I had my surgery date. Once I had told everyone, I felt very ready for everything– to take it all on.”

CM: What helped you cope through all of this?

LS:  “Dave – he kept his spirits up, he had a very good public face. I also had such confidence in my doctors. I’m someone who prays a lot, I have conversations with God a lot which helped me to hand everything over. It was very comforting to think of the fact that I had no choice in this. I’m usually someone who things, “Oh my God, what did I do wrong?” Just accepting this helped tremendously.

Visualizations also helped – I would think of erasers erasing cancer cells and an angel swiping the cancer cells away. I also thought a lot about my grandmother watching over me.

Keeping my spirits up was the biggest fight. Not getting depressed, not getting too lost in it all. I’d have to pull out a lot of stops sometimes just to keep my spirits up, but I did it, I kept them up for the most part. Everyone says your frame of mind helps you to feel better and to get better – and I think this really did help.”

CM: What scared you most?

LS: “Getting the initial diagnosis. You honestly go from ‘do do do’ {everyday life} to getting your diagnosis. I am healthy, I lead a good life. The diagnosis shook me – I thought I had built up a shield.”

CM: Do you know anyone else with breast cancer, or who has had breast cancer? Did you find support in fellow survivors?

LS: “I have two really good friends that have had mastectomies; they always knew the right things to say. I have two friends that are going through all of this now and I’ve been a good resource for them. I’m a cheerleader for them. It’s been a privilege to be on the other side, to be able to provide support.”

CM: When going through treatment, you experienced a lot of changes to your body. How did this affect you as a woman?

LS: “The breast part didn’t affect me as much as the hair. I say that because, I did have reconstruction at the time of the surgery – although, I had three infections, so I had to learn how to do at home IVs and eventually had to have one of them taken out, so I was one-sided for a while.

Not having hair was more visible. I remember one day I was in H & M with Casey {daughter}. I either had my wig or a scarf on and only one boob at the time. I was 57 looking around at all these posters and all these young girls. That was discouraging time.

So my advice would be to wait until your done treatment to go clothes shopping! {laughs}

With my reconstruction I went one size up. I’ve always been small-chested, so I feel ‘boobacious’ now! {Such a great word!}

We’re in such a different era today; it’s amazing what they can do. One of my friend’s mothers is a breast cancer survivor who never had reconstruction and her chest is a big wound. I have thought many times of the women who went before me – their breasts were cut off and that was that. A lot of women had to go through so much to get to where we are, I am so grateful. Kudos to the women who went before us.”

CM: What is something that everyone can do to promote breast cancer awareness?

LS: “Do self breast exams for sure. I always think thank God I had that mammogram – what if I waited another year?”

CM: Are there any ways you promote breast cancer awareness?

LS: “When friends and family participate in different races I’ll help out financially. I go to benefits hosted by my doctors and whatnot. And I write my blog.”

Speaking of Lea’s blog, please have a look. It’s awe-inspiring, moving, powerful and amazingly written. The way she writes is so descriptive and engaging – you truly feel as though you’re there with her in whatever situation she’s writing about. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry. It is 150% worth checking out – so, enjoy!

Thank you SO MUCH for sharing your experience with us Lea! :)

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And it’s just another Manic Monday

When I say ‘this weekend was a busy one’, I mean it. We had so much to do which made those two precious days go by so fast!

Friday I got to leave work a little earlier than usual, got on an early train and had time to relax before I headed out for the evening. It was so nice! I just vegged out in front of the TV – caught up with the cast of ‘Glee’ on Oprah. After spending time with Oprah, I spent time with Danielle. D and I grabbed some delicious sushi then headed to Merrimack to see their performance of RENT. It was excellent; I was very impressed – such amazing voices!

Saturday morning I woke up with a migraine. TERRIBLE! Like, seriously – why on a Saturday? I slowly got it together and made some moves. First move – buy Jack Johnson tickets for July 12th. CAN NOT WAIT for the concert – I loove me some Jack Johnson and I’ve never seen him perform. I have however met him at the Pearl Jam/U2 concert in Hawaii a few years ago. That was one of the best days of my life. Second move – go run important errands and browse a few shops. Since I dropped the ball on Rent the Runway, I figured I might as well have a look… I found a really cute dress to wear to the wedding so I was pumped!

Not the best picture, but you get the gist...

Saturday night was the wedding and although I had a migraine I powered through and we had a great time – so much fun! Bim looked gorgeous and extremely happy – her and Scott seemed to really enjoy the whole evening.

It was funny to be socializing/drinking/dancing with ‘work people.’ Colin was a huge hit as usual! I love having him with me at social events, he is so good - talks to anyone, doesn’t mind dancing, just likes to have a good time. He makes everyone laugh and people generally love him (especially me!)

OH! Also… I caught the bouquet! This little man visiting over from Thailand (Bim is Thai) caught the garter. I had to sit on the chair in front of everyone while this man put the garter on my thigh - in front of work people. Pretty interesting…

Sunday morning we got up early and hit the road – destination, St. Johnsbury VT for Colin’s grandfather’s birthday party! It was a really good time – I love getting to see all of Colin’s family. The drive back was beautiful (and I was actually awake for most of it.)

Still a little snow on the mountain...

Now, onto today’s business -

On 4/15 bring in a reusable tumbler and Starbucks will fill it for free in an effort to get rid of paper cups!

http://www.starbucks.com/thebigpicture

Conan just announced today that he will have a new show on TBS at 11pm starting this November – pumped!

http://justjared.buzznet.com/2010/04/12/conan-obrien-tbs-team-up-for-new-show/

Congratulations to Phil Mickelson for his Master’s win!! The good husband, dad, son, person, etc. won and that is something to celebrate. After a tough year supporting his wife as well as his mother with their battle against breast cancer, he won a battle of his own. He might have even taught Tiger a thing or two about karma.

Great article here – http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=5077009

Today’s Save – $25 for a trial membership at the Cambridge Athletic Club (25 day pass + 1hr free personal training session.) Not too shabby!

Also, check out Eversave on Boston.com -

http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/house/bargainbin/2010/04/welcome_eversave.html

Today’s Groupon – $5 for $10 at the Pita Pit – 479 Harvard Street, Brookline.

http://www.groupon.com/deals/p-ita-pit-boston

Today’s deal on wowwhatsavings.com is a discounted cleaning service – Crystal Clean Home Cleaning Service*new customers only.

http://www.wowwhatsavings.com/deal/Crystal+Clean+Home+Cleaning+Service

Today on Buywithme, $15 for $30 at Savenor’s (market) in Cambridge or Beacon Hill -

http://us1.campaign-archive.com/?u=17c5e85f775c10d8a0c755376&id=399c5192b8&e=de3ecae0cc

Wine Riot – Saturday 1-5pm and 7-11pm at Cyclorama -  539 Tremont Street, South End (617) 426-5000. Eats from Tremont 647, Red Bones and Masa.

Get tickets here – thewineriot.com

Go for a run tonight with Boston Community Runs. Three, five and seven mile runs are offered around the Charles. After your run you’re rewarded with complimentary appetizers. This happens every Monday at 6:30pm – meet at McGreevey’s (911 Boylston Street, Back Bay) and go from there…

Attention all ‘Massholes’, get ready to become a star!

http://gawker.com/5514861/get-ready-for-the-massachusetts-version-of-jersey-shore-massholes

Tomorrow, Glee is back with an all Madonna episode! More info here -

http://www.nypost.com/p/blogs/popwrap/the_wait_for_new_glee_is_almost_9LdNCI3PspyFohhOVsN9XJ

And here is a preview from Broadway World -

http://www.broadwayworld.com/videoplay.php?colid=119520

Lastly I leave you with these two pictures…

Denise Truscello - Wire Image - From People.com

Why Heidi? Why? I’m sorry but this extreme boobage, extreme blonde, extreme sparkle, etc. is just not for me…

And…

People.com

Kim, your heiney is showing a little bit…

Have a good evening! I have a Glee-ful surprise for you later… Stay tuned :)

Bunyons, fungus, athlete’s foot, hammer toes? SEXY.

Tonight Meg and I attended an event hosted by Merrimack College (on campus) along with Fitness Magazine as well as Saints Women’s Medical Center for Health and Wellness. It was great! Upon entering, they had some delicious food set up – some spinach and ricotta flat breads, a penne dish and coconut crusted chicken as well as red or white wine. There were tables set up from local health based businesses such as Calhoun Chiropractic – Family Wellness/Peak Athletic Performance (451 Andover Street, Suite 100, Andover – (978) 681-4500), The Nova Spa (595 Chickering Road, Route 125 North Andover – (978) 685-9723), First Health of Andover which specializes in Acupuncture (1 Dundee Park, Suites 1 & 2, Andover – (978) 474-9994), among others.

Everyone was really friendly, it was a relaxing atmosphere. Meg and I were definitely the youngest women there, but it was good – change of scenery. We walked around and chatted for a bit before sitting down. Once we took our seats, we were introduced to the new wellness center through a quick video. Made to mirror spa-like facilities, this place looks amazing. From the bathrobes you change into, to the waterfall in the waiting room (along with WiFi, soothing music and coffee/tea) you are pretty much guaranteed a comfortable, anxiety-free environment.

This place was designed in order to please women, to make them feel at ease. The level of expertise that comes along with the aesthetically pleasing surroundings is top notch. If you live in the Andover area, you would have had to travel to Boston before this new facility was established, however now it’s right in your backyard. They have a partnership with the Radiologist at MGH’s Imaging Department, and once Tomosynthesis is approved (a digital mammography) Saints Women’s Center will be one of the only places in New England with this equipment.

The first speaker was Dr. Julie Jones (Director), a graduate of Boston’s Partner’s Breast Surgery Fellowship Program. She spoke of how serious breast cancer is. Did you know that one in eight women will get breast cancer in their lifetime? I have at least 7 or 8 friends (I think?…) It’s so scary to think that one of us might eventually get breast cancer. This is one of those things where you figure, ‘that’ll never happen to me,’ but you can never be sure. All women (and even men) need to keep on top of checking for lumps and bumps on a regular basis.

The Health and Wellness Center will offer Breast Imaging – mammograms (Dr. Jones said at the age of 40 you should be getting a mammogram regularly), ultrasounds, MRI’s, etc. One woman spoke up about how stressful waiting for the results of a mammogram can be. She explained how results usually take about two weeks, which adds about twenty years to her life. Then they call and say they didn’t get the whole picture and that she would have to come back. Then it takes about three weeks to get those results, which adds another ten years. Dr. Jones said that the wait for results will decrease with calling patients instead of sending letters containing their results.

Another woman bravely stood up to tell us her story. She had found a lump in May (a few years ago), wasn’t diagnosed until October. She explained how she had to travel to MGH in Boston and that the women of this area are now lucky to have all of this expertise, knowledge and technology right at their fingertips. She encouraged everyone to go to the Health and Wellness Center.

They  offer genetic testing as well – BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations. 10% of all breast cancer cases are hereditary. When there are three or more people in your family affected by breast cancer, you might want to think about genetic testing. It’s now a wash and spit test, no longer a blood test.

The next speaker was Dr. Bill Chun who was hilarious (he practices GYN at the Health and Wellness Center, not the OB part FYI.) Dr. Chun explained how he likes to give each patient a personal experience – he likes to chat and get to know everybody. First topic was menopause – Chun told us that in 1899 people believed that if you ground up dried cow ovaries, that this should be helpful for women experiencing menopause (anyone willing to try?)

Bioidentical Hormones have been prescribed to Dr. Chun’s patients for menopause side effects, including night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, etc. Let’s get one thing straight – hot flashes scare the shit out of me. I already turn red reeeally easy – I don’t need any help getting nervous, turning red and sweating – nothankyou – I can do that on my own. Apparently for 70% of women who experience hot flashes will experience them for two years (in some cases they go with you all the way to your sixties! That’s outrageous Mother Nature!)

Lastly, Dr. Kathleen O’Keefe (Podiatrist) spoke. Dr. O’Keefe explained how she continuously saw patients come in with infections from salon pedicures. They now offer a medical pedicure at this facility (however, no polish! bummer.) With a medical pedicure, everything they use is sterile, they don’t use jets (so no bacteria), they are able to use sharp instruments unlike salons, they do a medical exam while giving the pedicure so they can address common issues such as fungus and athletes foot (sexy.)

They offer a bio-mechanical exam in order to identify bunyons as well as hammer toes (yum.)  They offer a chemical peel for those big, gross, annoying calluses we all get (even if we’re ashamed of them.) Also, two different injections are used: 1 – Sculpture is inserted into the bottom of the foot to give it more cushion and 2 – Botox is used in order to address excess sweating (feet are so much fun to talk about.)

Overall this new Center seems like a wonderful addition to the Merrimack Valley. A doctor’s office with a spa-like feel seems like it would be enticing to any woman. Maybe the Bostonians will be shuttling out to the suburbs for treatment instead of vice-versa?

Check out their website – http://www.saintswomenscenter.com/

While browsing through some of their literature that was handed out Meg found this class – Sexual Violence, First Responders Training. Saints offers it free of charge on April 13th with three different sessions: 9-10am, 3-4pm and 7-8pm. ‘This educational program will assist clinical and non-clinical workers in responding to family, friends, patients or co-workers who disclose that they have been a victim of sexual abuse.’ For anyone who knows someone or who is interested in volunteering somewhere where this could be useful, please inquire more -

http://www.saintsmedicalcenter.com/

On another note… Today Nicole and I decided to go get our (probably last, unfortunately) free burritos from the Boloco in Harvard Square. We only had a short amount of time to get to the Boloco, order and get back to work. We rushed to the T, ran down the stairs, and just missed the train! Oh wait, oops, we’re on the wrong side. Duh! We heard the announcement, ‘the next red line train to Alewife is now approaching…’ We looked at each other, mutual thoughts being, CRAP – WE NEED TO GET OVER THERE! We ran like we’ve never run before, up the steps, across the street, down the steps, through the ticket thing and onto the train – just made it. Thank you sweet baby Jesus! That burrito is worth everything and anything. SO SO delicious.

Ok, it’s way too late for me to be up. I’m really enjoying the whole blogging thing, I hope you are too. Goodnight! :)