In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, three survivors share their journeys of hope.
Cancer-free for 24 years, Harriet Sheinberg’s breast cancer journey began in 1986, when her younger sister was told that her tiny little bump was “nothing” because she was too young to have breast cancer.
“The needle biopsy proved she was not too young,” Sheinberg recalls.
Beverly had surgery to remove the tumor and radioactive seeds implanted in her breast—and at stage 1, went about living her life.
“What we did not know then, which is well known now, is you must have clean margins,” says Sheinberg, of Newbury Park. “That little bit of unknown information cost my sister her life. She passed away 5½ years later at 42.”
Eighteen months later, at age 49, Sheinberg was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. Thankfully, she had acquired knowledge and support from the Cancer Support Community.
“It was in a little yellow house and we became extremely active,” Sheinberg says, recalling her experience attending support groups at the Santa Monica Cancer Support Community.
Sheinberg learned more about coping with cancer when her daughter, Janice, was diagnosed at age 41.
Today, Sheinberg empathizes with others facing similar situations. As a survivor, she is involved in the American Cancer Society’s Pink Ribbon Partner program offered through Los Robles Hospital, in which breast cancer survivors connect with newly diagnosed patients.
“We have to get the word out that this exists,” Sheinberg emphasizes. “I want people to realize there’s a program out there—when you’re newly diagnosed, you can talk to someone who has already walked in their shoes.”
The Pink Ribbon Partners program aims to raise money for breast cancer research and to increase community awareness about this free resource, Sheinberg notes.
Hoping to raise $1,000 in the Making Strides walk, “with your help, we will succeed,” Sheinberg says.
When Bill Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, he immediately became focused and intent on dealing with the disease quickly and thoroughly.
After undergoing a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, which determined the extent of his cancer, he had a full right breast mastectomy that included sentinel lymph nodes and some distal nodes.
“Following the mastectomy I was put on a Tamoxifen regiment and had the BRCA gene mutation test, which returned a positive BRCA2 mutation,” Harris, 66, recalls. “As a result of that test and my personal and family history, I chose to have a second mastectomy in order to reduce the chances of metastasis or a second breast cancer.”
Upon his diagnosis, Harris received support from his wife, and also reached out to numerous organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Mayo Clinic, Livestrong Foundation and Imerman Angels.
“Initially, the American Cancer Society provided a great deal of information about breast cancer, but nearly all of it was about women,” Harris, of Agoura Hills, remembers.
“There was little available about men and what was there described it in the same terms as those for a women,” he says. “That was the case in most every resource I went to.”
He has since become involved with Real Men Wear Pink, which works alongside Making Strides Against Breast Cancer events. Real Men Wear Pink gives communities the opportunity to nominate local male leaders to spearhead fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society’s breast cancer initiatives.
Today, Harris is cancer-free. More specifically, as of August 25, “I have been cancer-free for 5 years, 1 month, and 24 days—but who’s counting, right?”
Since being cancer-free, “I’ve been more diligent about being aware of what is going on in my body,” he says. “You are always conscious of the fact that it was there, and that it could come back.”
He has also lost weight, spends more time with his wife and dog, and has “learned to not sweat the small things,” he says.
Today, he informs both men and women that male breast cancer exists, and that it’s as dangerous as breast cancer in women.
“It is due to late diagnosis that the mortality rate in men from the same breast cancers women get is five times as great, due mostly to metastasis,” Harris notes.
He advises others facing this disease: “Be diligent. Learn how and do self-exams. Don’t hesitate to go to the doctor at the first sign of any change in your breasts.”
Most importantly, “remember, you are not alone,” Harris adds. “There are many people and organizations out here that will provide any and all support you need.”
It was a “punch in the gut” followed by denial when Pam Freyder was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. Today, she views her journey as twofold.
“Part 1 was from diagnosis through treatment, which lasted six months,” recalls Freyder, of Simi Valley.
Her children, family, very special friends and neighbors “stepped up” and walked beside her both physically and emotionally.
“They were an immeasurable support system,” Freyder says. “Without them, I would not have had the positive outlook throughout this part of the journey that I had.”
Part 2 was “being thrown back like a fish” when the doctors said, “You’re done with treatment, now go back to your life.”
“For this part, I was truly blessed to have found Young Survivors Coalition Support Group,” Freyder says. “We have ladies at all stages of breast cancer from the Conejo Valley, to Moorpark, to Camarillo to Simi Valley. These ladies have been my rock and sounding board for discussions as well as becoming what I consider a sisterhood. I am four years out since my diagnosis and we still meet.”
She also credits the American Cancer Society’s Look Good Feel Better class, which she attended right before her first chemo treatment.
“It was a great ice breaker into the world of what chemo does to our skin and face,” Freyder remembers. “I loved the cosmetologist who walked us through the class and found that having humor and laughter was a great way to change any dark day or mood.”
While Freyder has undergone a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation, “We are never cancer-free; the cancer cells are just not detected. That being said, my last treatment was September 26, 2013, and so I have been on the other side of cancer for just shy of four years.”
Today, she tells others experiencing breast cancer, “You are stronger than you know.”
“You also need to allow others to help,” she emphasizes. “You are not alone. There are many people who want to help; let them.”
And don’t be afraid to ask questions of your doctors, no matter how stupid or insignificant you may be afraid they are, Freyder advises.
“Your peace of mind will help you in your journey and will help your body to heal faster as well,” she says.
She advises others going through this journey to “enjoy every day.”
“Some days are better than others, but only you have the ability to turn your attitude to the positive,” Freyder adds. “YOLO, as my kids say, you only live once. The scars are a daily reminder of the cancer, and so I choose to live every day to the fullest.”