whole living guide
2017 Miles of Hope Community Walk for Breast Cancer.
BEATING OUT BREAST CANCER A NEW WAVE OF TARGETED, MOLECULAR THERAPIES IS CLOSING IN ON BREAST CANCER, LIFTING SURVIVAL RATES AND VASTLY IMPROVING QUALITY OF LIFE. by wendy k agan
s a dancer, Mary Ritter has always been in close conversation with her body. So, in the fall of 2010, when a lump developed in her right breast, she knew something was wrong. “I wear leotards and tights and all kinds of things that are close to my body,” says Ritter, a dance instructor at Yanarella School of Dance in Beacon. “I was always very conscious of what was going on, so I knew this thing was happening. It just happened to be two weeks before my dance recital.”Yet even her keener-than-average body awareness couldn’t keep up with the speed of the tumor that was growing inside her. As recently as January, she’d had a clean mammogram—but in the space of ten months, a tumor had taken root and quickly claimed her entire right breast. “They brought me in and did another mammogram, and basically had the technician read it immediately because they suspected something,” she says. “They did a biopsy, I had my dance recital, and two days later they called me with the news.” It was Stage 3 cancer and very aggressive, so the doctors had to work quickly. To get the tumor to stop growing, Ritter went through five rounds of chemotherapy. “I lost my hair right after Christmas,” she recalls. “At one point I was hospitalized because I was so weak.” By April she was ready for surgery, electing for a double mastectomy because even though her left breast was cancer-free, she knew she was susceptible. “I was close to 50 and didn’t need my breasts anymore,” says the mother of grown children. A plastic surgeon performed reconstruction the same day as her mastectomy. “I wanted to be able to put on a leotard and not have people say, ‘Oh my god, what happened to that woman?’”
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Ritter also started radiation about a month after the surgery, because the doctors couldn’t say for sure whether her lymph nodes were clear. She wasn’t going to take any chances. Today she is a seven-year breast cancer survivor, a grandmother of two with a third on the way, and she’s never stopped dancing. The Rise of Tumor-Melting Smart Bombs Going from Stage 3 to cancer-free is not always a given, but success stories like Ritter’s are becoming more prevalent these days. What’s more amazing: Sometimes these stories don’t include aggressive chemotherapy anymore, and the hair loss and sickness that come with it. Over the last 10 to 15 years, modern medicine has made tremendous strides with breast cancer, and an arsenal of new, less toxic medications is stripping many diagnoses of their lethal edge. New-to-the-market treatments are even giving Stage 4 metastatic breast cancers, which currently have a 22-percent five-year survival rate, a run for the money. “Surgery has made some improvements, but it’s the systemic treatments, the chemotherapies and targeted therapies, that are the reason why women are doing so much better with breast cancer now,” says Julia SchaeferCutillo, MD, a medical oncologist with Hudson Valley Cancer Center. “It’s been such an exciting ride for me since I began my career 12 years ago, with all the changes we’ve seen and the new drugs that we have.” Gone are the days when a one-centimeter tumor automatically meant a total mastectomy. Gone as well is the assumption that a breast cancer patient will need chemotherapy in all scenarios. “Now we send a molecular test in