25 Years of Survivorship: A Mother Reflects

Breast Cancer Survivor
Thursday, May 4, 2017 - 11:42am

In 1990, I was diagnosed with an advanced breast cancer. Every one of my lymph nodes tested positive for cancer. I was 29 years old.

Shocked and scared, I went to the first oncology group that was offered to me. They told me I wouldn’t see my then-4-year-old son, Scott, graduate from kindergarten. My specialist recommended that I get a bone marrow transplant (BMT), noting that I would need to travel to another city, and probably to another state, for this highly specialized and intensive treatment. 

I knew that we had a cancer center right in our backyard, so I decided to spend one day with Roswell Park Cancer Institute to see what they had to say. I braced for the worst news, but instead was met with hope, concern and an urgency to start my road to wellness. I immediately decided to stay with Roswell Park, and scheduled a bone marrow transplant there. I knew the treatment was going to be a challenge, but Roswell Park offered me new trials and treatment not offered to me before.

That fall, I put Scott on the bus for his first day of kindergarten, not knowing how many days or months or years I would be around to do this. Being a single mother, I had to bring him with me for daily appointments that would last 4 to 6 hours a day. The nurses spoiled him.

May 5, 2017, is the 25th anniversary of my bone marrow transplant — my second birthday. Because of Roswell Park, not only did I see Scott graduate from kindergarten, I got to see him graduate with high honors a few months ago from his Radiation Therapy program. I know that my experience at Roswell Park helped inspire his career choice and his passion for working with cancer patients.

I still go back to Roswell Park every year for my visits to the Annual BMT Long-Term Survivorship Clinic, and every year I look forward to reconnecting with Pam Paplham, the nurse who has been with me every step of the way. Pam, a nurse practitioner and doctor of nursing practice with Roswell Park’s BMT program, was involved in my bone marrow harvest, all my bone marrow biopsies and all my follow-up care.

I am so thankful I decided to spend just one day with Roswell Park. When I first heard their “Just One Day” campaign, I thought it was perfect, as that is exactly what I tell people when I find out they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. I’ll say, “Listen, you’ve just got to spend one day with Roswell Park and see what they have to offer you.” I thank you, Roswell Park, for never giving up on me. You have meant everything to me.

Editor’s note: While Heidi had a bone marrow transplant as part of a clinical trial, bone marrow transplant is not currently an approved treatment option for breast cancer.