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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