Survivor Story: Lauren Novotny of Dobbs Ferry

Heather Salerno wrote this profile of Lauren Novotny of Dobbs Ferry for the Sunday Life section on Oct. 16, 2011:

When Lauren Novotny of Dobbs Ferry felt a lump in her right breast in January 2010, she didn’t go to a doctor right away. Only 30 at the time, she waited for several months before looking into it.

“Maybe I didn’t want to face it, or didn’t really think it was anything major,” she says. “And then my friend, Kelly, was diagnosed. That hit home and hit hard.”

Novotny has known her best friend, Kelly Thomas, since they worked at the Chart House in Dobbs Ferry together when she was 18. So when Thomas revealed that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer, Novotny got scared for her friend — and for herself.

Lauren Novotny poses Sept. 6, 2011. She was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2010 at age 31.( Joe Larese / The Journal News )

Lauren Novotny of Dobbs Ferry was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2010 at age 31. She took up meditation to help herself heal. ( Joe Larese / The Journal News )

As it turned out, Novotny’s lump was breast cancer, too, which had spread to her lymph nodes. That launched a whirlwind of treatment that included a double mastectomy and five months of chemotherapy. For her, the side effects of chemo were so bad — dehydration, heart palpitations, rashes and swollen limbs — that she ended up in the hospital twice.

Yet throughout her journey, Novotny has had Thomas to lean on, and vice versa. Each knew exactly what the other was going through: The two even sometimes got chemotherapy on the same day, and then they’d head to Thomas’ apartment in Nyack for what they called “chemo day care.” They’d try on each other’s wigs, watch reality shows and struggle through bouts of nausea and pain together.

“It was really a good experience for something that’s such a horrible experience, to have somebody by your side like that,” she says. “But in turn, I’m very upset that we both had to go through something like this.”

Up next for Novotny is some more reconstructive surgery, and she’s also been debating with her doctor about whether she needs to keep taking a cancer-fighting drug, tamoxifen. But most important, all of her follow-up tests have shown no sign that the cancer has returned. (Thomas is also doing well.) Yet she does wonder if she would have needed surgery or chemotherapy, if the disease had been caught earlier.

“I don’t regret anything, everything happens for a reason,” she says. “But I do suggest, and I’ve told every single one of my girlfriends, if you feel anything…go to the doctor.”

There are plenty of other ways that breast cancer has made an impact on Lauren Novotny. After the jump, 10 more examples of how the disease has changed her life:

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Young women with breast cancer face unique challenges

Journal News reporter Heather Salerno reported on the many other obstacles that face women under 40 when they’re diagnosed with breast cancer, as part of our ongoing coverage for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s the story as it appeared in print:

In June 2007, just a month after being diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer, Cortlandt Manor’s Sue Andersen was sitting poolside in Las Vegas at her best friend’s bachelorette party.

Only 37 and the mother of two small children, Andersen had lost all of her hair during her first two rounds of chemotherapy. But she felt well enough to make the trip, and the celebration allowed her to briefly take her mind off her illness.

So on one 100-degree day, Andersen ditched her wig back in the hotel room and wrapped a bandanna around her bald head. To show their support, her group of pals donned scarves, too, a move that attracted some attention around the pool.

Breast cancer survivors, from left, Lauren Novotny of Dobbs Ferry, Kelly Thomas of Nyack, Sue Andersen of Cortlandt Manor and Pam Tole of Yorktown. All were diagnosed with the illness in their 30s. ( Xavier Mascareñas / The Journal News)

Breast cancer survivors, from left, Lauren Novotny of Dobbs Ferry, Kelly Thomas of Nyack, Sue Andersen of Cortlandt Manor and Pam Tole of Yorktown. All were diagnosed with the illness in their 30s. ( Xavier Mascareñas / The Journal News)

“The guys at the bar said, ‘What’s up with the bandanna?’ And my friends said, ‘Sue has breast cancer,’” recalls Andersen. “They said, ‘Come on, what’s the real story?’ They didn’t believe us because I was too young.”

Unfortunately, that perception — young women don’t get breast cancer — is all too common. The disease is still relatively rare among those in their teens, 20s or 30s: Most cases are in women over 50, with a median age of 61. But the numbers are significant.

About 5 percent to 6 percent of all breast cancer cases occur in women under 40 in the United States. And there are more than 250,000 breast cancer survivors in this country who were diagnosed at age 40 and under, according to the Young Survival Coalition and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Advocacy Alliance. Even more alarming — when compared to those in their 50s and beyond, young women typically have a more aggressive form of the disease and a lower survival rate.

And while getting breast cancer is devastating at any age, younger women face a number of unique obstacles that compound an already heartbreaking diagnosis.

Those who are single wonder how to bring the “C-word” up on a date, or how they’ll pay their bills if they take time off work to recover. Young mothers are dealing with cancer while caring for their little ones — and praying that their children won’t have to grow up without them. And all face a possible loss of fertility, prompting fears that they may never have biological children, or be able to add to their family.

Not to mention, right from the start, they’re fighting a stereotype — one that can actually kill them. Because having breast cancer is so inconceivable to them, young women are less likely to seek medical attention right away. And if they do, doctors sometimes tell them to wait and watch a lump. Both approaches can lead to a later diagnosis, and for some, an earlier death.

“If you find something which is abnormal or something in the breast that you did not feel before, make sure you show it to a physician and don’t let him dismiss it,” says Dr. Abraham Mittelman, a medical oncologist with Northern Westchester Hospital and Phelps Memorial Hospital Center. “Pursue it,” he says, “until you have an answer.”

We wanted to get some more information out there about this particular group of breast cancer survivors, who face some very different concerns from their older counterparts. Here are four of the biggest challenges that young women encounter as they battle this life-changing disease.

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Reflections on Survivor Stories: Geri Moran, Arnold Roufa & Ted Brown

When you make it to the “other side,” you feel the need to grab as many others’ hands as you can who are also fighting the disease and take them with you.






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Survivor Story: Theodor “Ted” Brown of Irvington

Heather Salerno wrote this inspiring profile on Theodor “Ted” Brown of Irvington for the Sunday Life section of Oct. 9, 2011:

Breast cancer never crossed the mind of Theodor “Ted” Brown when he pointed out a pimple-sized bump on his right breast during an annual physical.

Even his doctor didn’t think it was serious, though he urged Brown to get it checked out. A biopsy revealed that Brown was indeed in the first stage of the disease, making him a member of an exclusive — and unfortunate — fraternity. For men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about one in a 1,000, compared to the one in eight women who will be diagnosed at some time in their lives.

The condition is so rare that Brown, a 59-year-old dentist who lives in Irvington, didn’t believe the diagnosis at first. After the biopsy results came back, he paid to have the test redone at three different laboratories.

“I don’t think guys think it’s a possibility,” he says. “It’s really thought of as a woman’s disease.”

Photos by Tania Savayan / The Journal News

In Brown’s case, the disease was caught early, though he did have to undergo a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy. He’s still taking tamoxifen, a cancer-fighting drug, but he’ll celebrate six years of being cancer-free in December.

Brown says that he’s not ashamed to share his story, though some male patients report being too embarrassed to tell others. He wants other men to know that breast cancer is a possibility — and that they should always look into any potential medical problem.

“I could have ignored it, totally ignored it,” he says. “But when (my doctor) said, ‘Maybe you should get it checked out,’ why not? When in doubt, why not? What do you have to lose?”

There are plenty of ways that breast cancer changed Ted Brown’s life.  After the jump, 10 more examples of how the disease affected him.

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Survivor Story: Geri Moran of Elmsford

Heather Salerno has this story about Geri Moran of Elmsford from Sunday’s Journal News:

Though some might not see having breast cancer as lucky, Elmsford’s Geri Moran, a 23-year survivor, knows exactly how much good fortune she’s had throughout her journey with the illness.

Her luck started when she went to her doctor in 1988 to investigate a shooting pain in her right breast. The doctor was convinced that the cause was a benign cyst, but he insisted that she go for a mammogram just to be sure. He was right about the cyst, but the mammogram also picked up a tiny tumor in the other breast.

“It was in a small space, in a duct, that made it more dangerous,” says Moran, who was a 40-year-old single mother when she was first diagnosed. “By the time I would have felt it, I would have been dead.”

Photos by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News

Instead, her cancer was detected at Stage 1, early enough that it hadn’t spread. She had a mastectomy to remove the tumor, but she and her oncologist decided that she didn’t need further treatment like chemotherapy, radiation or other cancer-fighting drugs. Since then, she’s needed no additional therapies —nor has she had a recurrence of the disease.

“I always say I’m the luckiest person in the world,” says Moran.

So she found a way to give back, creating small cloth dolls called “Wish and Worry Angels.” They’re designed to bring comfort to those in need — the idea is to let the angel take care of your troubles — and Moran has given away hundreds over the years.

Many have gone to patients seeking help at Support Connection, the Yorktown Heights-based organization that offers services to those with breast and ovarian cancer. (She also sells them at the online marketplace Etsy.com, with a portion of the proceeds going to Support Connection and Operation Smile, a charity that provides free surgeries to children around the world with facial deformities.)

“Every time I sit down and say, ‘I’m not doing these angels anymore, nobody needs them,’ someone calls and says they want one for someone they know that’s sick,” she says.

There are plenty of other ways that breast cancer changed Geri Moran’s life. After the jump, here are 10 more examples of how the disease has impacted her:

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