Cancer – a time to reflect, appreciate and recalibrate

By Maria Saporta

When I got the call that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer on the morning of Oct. 13, my first reflex was: “I don’t have time for this. Take it back.”

After all, breast cancer had not been part of my life’s plan. There was no history of breast cancer in my family. And although I have had fibrocystic breasts for decades, countless biopsies had the same result – the cysts were always benign.

It got to the point where I didn’t even want to go get a mammogram anymore because I knew they would inevitably lead to more biopsies and more negative results.

Lesson No. 1: Don’t ever assume you are immune to cancer.

Lesson No. 2: No one plans to have cancer. No one has time for it – the ongoing tests, doctors’ visits, surgery and treatment. Instead, it hits you upside the head and tells you to wake up and make time for yourself and your health.

So when this reality hit, I decided I would embrace it as another one of life’s experiences.

Sunrise buds

Sunrise buds (Photo by Lisa Panero)

 

The good news is that my cancer is Stage 2. For people who have a breast cancer vocabulary – I’m learning it as I go – it is 100 percent estrogen-fed, which my surgeon’s nurse, Jennifer, said was really good news.

The bad news for me is that taking post-menopausal hormones would be in the past, and uncomfortable hot flashes would be in my future. I’m convinced that if there were more female medical researchers, we would have more post-menopausal options.

The cancer also is slow-growing – a 15 on a scale of 0 to 100.

Jennifer had told me initially it was in at least one of my lymph nodes. That was puzzling to my breast doctor of many years – Dr. William Barber. He explained to me that once cancer is found in a lymph node, the common assumption is that chemo will be necessary.

Lesson No. 3: Don’t make assumptions.

Dr. Barber told me he questioned whether chemo would be effective for my kind of cancer. “If it were me, I would want to have the Ocnotype DX test,” he told me in a two-hour, one-on-one visit. The Oncotype test would tell us whether chemo was necessary or effective.

The problem was that insurance rarely pays for an Oncotype test if the cancer has been found in a lymph node.

Lesson No. 4: Be willing to challenge the status quo.

The company that performs the test told me my insurance had said it wouldn’t pay for it. Would it be okay with me if they appealed that decision. “Of course,” I answered. “I want that test.”

“You will have that test,” the lady on the phone said. If the appeal were denied, the xompany would charge me the “in-network” rate – meaning it would be about the same as my co-pay. That was a no brainer.

So on Nov. 13, I had surgery – a lumpectomy plus the removal of 11 lymph. Cancer was in two of them.

The Oncotype test results also have come back. The risk of recurrence with chemo, radiation and hormonal therapy is 11 percent. The risk without chemo is 9 percent.

Saporta-Luse family photo

Our family photo taken in December 2014 – Carmen, Maria, David and pets (Photo by Marisa Ottaviano)

I’m going into such detail about something rather personal for two reasons. I want to be as transparent as possible with my family, friends, readers and the general public – with the hope that my journey can help others who may be going through a similar experience.

The second reason is so all of you can understand why I’m so thankful this Thanksgiving season. My prognosis is good. It appears I won’t have to go through chemo. But even if that weren’t the case, my brush with cancer is giving me an opportunity to reflect and reassess on what I treasure most.

I have come to welcome that reality check.

My children, my sister, my cousin in Paris and my extended family, friends and colleagues have been so supportive – making me realize we can never fully appreciate the love that surrounds us until we get such a wake-up call.

So far, I have been somewhat selective in who I’ve told. But I’ve come to realize there are so many more people I know and care about – making me even more grateful for my extended network of friends – including all the wonderful SaportaReport readers.

I want to publicly share my thanks to and appreciation for all of you – for being part of our team and community. I plan to keep you informed as I continue along this journey.

Lesson No 5: We are moving toward the individual diagnosis of different cancers based upon genes and DNA. As the medical profession moves to personalized treatments for our individual cancers, the insurance industry must keep up.

Lesson No. 6: I have realized I now have a whole new family of people who have survived breast cancer – a kind of sisterhood welcoming me into its fold. We all have a story to tell – and fortunately, most stories are of people who have beaten breast cancer.

Climate march 2015

Marching to save our planet on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015 – People’s Climate March Atlanta (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Lesson No. 7: Another self-realization is that I love what I do. I love being a journalist, and it’s as much a part of me as the oxygen I breathe. When I insisted on working while I was recovering from surgery, I explained to my editors that work is therapeutic.

In short, I care deeply about what’s going on in our city, state and world. I want to do whatever I can to help make Atlanta better, stronger and livelier – and the best tool I have is as a journalist.

Lesson No. 8: As much as I love my profession, I also have come to realize I need greater balance in my life. The cancer has helped me take a deep breath – reminding me I need to enjoy life as much as I can. We all do.

So for all those lessons, I am especially thankful this holiday season.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

104 replies
  1. Chuck Burleson says:

    Your words are both informative and comforting. An awful lot of us have gone through similar tough situations and such a large community can be a welcome support. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family…Report

    Reply
  2. Tony Wilbert says:

    Maria, Your incredible strength will prove critical in your fight. We’re thinking of you. And look to Claudia Patton for advice and inspiration.Report

    Reply
  3. Paul Griffin says:

    Thank-you so much for sharing this with us, your readers, Maria. Your journey and lessons are our journey and lessons. Without a doubt, your strength, courage, family and friends will see you through this. Sending you positive thoughts for a speedy recovery from aross the miles!Report

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Brooks says:

    Best wishes for successful treatment and excellent outcome. Yes, “menopause with a vengeance” is a significant price to pay and one day there will be better options. For now, welcome to the sisterhood of resilient women.Report

    Reply
  5. Nancy Campbell Albritton says:

    Thinking of you with a prayer. I am on the other side of the fight: colon cancer. I’m also back at work, committing the journalism we so love!Report

    Reply
  6. Judy Pearl Jay says:

    Maria, thanks for sharing your most personal story with us. Your most positive attitude is essential to this journey. Keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.Report

    Reply
  7. Gus Kaufman says:

    I’m one of the thousands who appreciate you and your work without having told you so. Thanks for this report and all you do! Wishing you swift, easy and complete healing of mind, body and spirit. Gus KaufmanReport

    Reply
  8. Jim Auchmutey says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Maria. My mother died of cancer and one of my sisters went through what you’re going through. So glad that your prognosis is good. Pam and I send our love and best wishes.Report

    Reply
  9. Jan Jaben Eilon says:

    Cancer is a journey filled with many gifts, as well as roller coaster emotions. I’m a 9-year survivor of ovarian cancer — and still fighting!Report

    Reply
  10. Kym Estis says:

    Maria Saporta just read this and feeling thankful to you for sharing and to your excellent care team (medical and otherwise) for providing you with great support! Sending all my best – looking forward to seeing you soon!Report

    Reply
  11. Esther Stokes says:

    Maria, you are brave to share this personal information…thank you!  And know that the Atlanta community supports your recovery big-time!  You are important to all of us!  Here’s to a speedy recovery!Report

    Reply
  12. maegentry says:

    Thinking of you, Maria, and hoping you’ll have a full recovery. (Hot flashes aren’t so bad, by the way. I actually enjoyed them, but then again I’m a little weird.) Love you.Report

    Reply
  13. Melinda Kelleher says:

    Maria – Thanks so much for sharing this.  Wishing you much strength and healing!  All of us at Atlanta Habitat for Humanity are thinking of you and sending you all the best for good health!  Melinda KelleherReport

    Reply
  14. Noel Khalil says:

    Maria you are a Amazing Woman. Thanks for sharing your journey with breast cancer. My prayers are with you for a full recovery!

    Your Friend,

    Noel KhalilReport

    Reply
  15. Cindy Chapman says:

    Maria,

    Thank you for sharing your story of your breast cancer diagnosis & treatment. Our organization is a breast cancer memoir of stories from women just like you. Dr. Bill Barber is a trustee on our board of this organization founded here in Atlanta. I invite you to visit our website http://www.pinkribbonstory.org to learn more about our mission so that you may share this information with other breast cancer patients and their families, friends, and caregivers. I would be happy to answer any questions about our organization. Your story is one we would like to share. With kind regards and best wishes for your recovery to health, Cindy ChapmanReport

    Reply
  16. David says:

    I just want to say thank you for sharing such a private and important part of you life. It has given me some invaluble information. I have lost family members and many of those questions such as the testing and insurance matters that could have made some kind of defferenceReport

    Reply
  17. Betsy says:

    Maria,
    Thank you for sharing your journey with your readers. Your message is an inspiration for all of us and my prayers are with you during this challenging time.
    BetsyReport

    Reply
  18. Adriane Wood says:

    Maria- lesson no. 9, according to many friends, is that leaning on a support group is an excellent way to stay strong.  There is a sisterhood, as you state, and I have noticed what an important part of recovery that is.  Write on, my friend, write on……………..Report

    Reply
  19. IntheATL2014 says:

    Iyou are a neighbor, just 3 blocks away. Now you are also a “bosom” buddy. I had 2 separate mastectomies in 2014. Both stage one, no lymph involvement. No chemo, no rads. Extremely grateful. Hope all your results are good ones.Report

    Reply
  20. Rachel Alterman Wallack says:

    It’s not at all surprising, Maria, that you’ve woven fact and investigation with a powerful story to create awareness, fill an information gap and inspire an audience. Thank you for doing what you do so well — using words and a public platform to move a city. With respect and appreciation – and delight for your great prognosis.Report

    Reply
  21. Patty Pflum says:

    Maria,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I doubt anyone could read your article and brush it off. It also gave me an opportunity to reflect on the contributions you have made to many nonprofit organizations — including mines – Communities In Schools — by your coverage of our stories. You seem to manage to be everywhere that something important is happening in Atlanta. Thank you!Report

    Reply
  22. Teri smith says:

    Not surprising at you are facing this journey in true Maria style and sharing your story in a frank and informative way that can educate and help others. Wishing you continued recovery and much good health and balance in the coming year.Report

    Reply
  23. Rory Hill says:

    Maria,
    Some of your old friends sent me this article. I trust that you will over come this. I commend your courage and desire to help others during this time. Time is precious, I just saw you about a week before while celebrating my birthday. You are in my prayers. Don’t be surprised if you hear from others from the past to support you. Sincerely, Rory J. HillReport

    Reply
  24. Wormser Hats says:

    God speed, Maria, in your emergence from this experience!
    Having my-own brush with testicular cancer 21 years ago, I hope you’ll come to find as I – and the many women in my family who’ve persevered beyond breast cancer – the wisdom of the sages is true: what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. 
    Moreover, having watched cancers take many men and women in my family, the oft-touted word, “survivor” doesn’t quite measure-up to the act of living-on, strengthened, if not actually emboldened by this experience. 
    As such, I prefer using a made-up label “cancer transcendant” rather than “cancer survivor”. 
    As one with a gift for thoughtful, written expression, it’s my hope you can come to know what I mean and perhaps coin a better term that lets others know the hope of living with and well-beyond the “C” word.Report

    Reply
  25. GeorgiaPeach says:

    Wow, I sure had to finish after that first sentence!  So glad to hear you are doing well-does that mean I don’t need to make you a pound cake?  I think you need to bring your kids back to see the cabin–Falefilimu II is now open. (but we are still using the postcards with Ike’s sketch!)  Take care of yourself and let us know when you have time for a weekend.  And thanks for all the wonderful reports that keep me better informed.Report

    Reply
  26. jamstan says:

    Brava! 

    My sister is a two time survivor and I am relieved to hear that your outlook is so positive. Stay vigilant. I am touched deeply that you felt called and that you took the time to write this column and serve the greater good by sharing your “lessons” and doing a wonderful job of raising awareness. We don’t have to look very hard to see that this work illustrates your commitment to serving your readership as a thoughtful and caring journalist who wants the very best for her city. It is all about awareness. It’s why the NFL goes pink every October and why early detection is so important. Well done, Maria. Let us all be grateful for each day.Report

    Reply
  27. Sandi says:

    Maria- I am writing as a fellow breast cancer survivor.  I bet you have had a lot of us to respond!  I am excited to hear your positive attitude and know it will be one of your most valuable tools in treating the cancer.  I was treated at MDAnderson in Houston for stage one, estrogen dependent breast cancer with no lymph node involvement.  Treatment was in the form of a  segmental mastectomy (lumpectomy), partial radiation (twice a day for 7 days) and 6 months of chemotherapy (prompted by the oncotype score).  As a nurse I was not aware of the oncotype for determining whether stage one,no lymph node involvement might warrant chemotherapy.  Not the news I wanted to hear but preferred to do all I could on the front end to prevent a serious reoccurrence which can be very difficult to treat/cure.  I apologize for being so lengthy but I wanted to say that I have been where you are.  Someone (who had cancer  2 times) told me “cancer is a gift in a black box”.  You seem to have received a “gift”.  I received several gifts from my experience.  The most valuable one being “perspective”.  Things that were “problems” before are now irritations/inconveniences.  The challenge for me is to not forget about that gift of perspective.  As time passes, it is easy to fall back into my old ways and think of everything as a problem. I try to be very intentional about maintaining the perspective.

    All this said, I did learn another very important thing.  The value of a second opinion from a center of excellence if possible. Even if “I liked my doctor” or if I simply like what he recommended as treatment.  Please forgive this unsolicited advice but I was fortunate to have a friend give me this encouragement.  I will be forever grateful!  Every case is different with many variables.  I wanted a fact based recommendation and not just an opinion.  I wanted to data.  I was able to get this and make my decision an informed one.  Please know my encouragement is given in the spirit of “what would I want another survivor to share with me”.  

    I wish you the very best and a future free of cancer!Report

    Reply
  28. Sandi says:

    Maria- I am writing as a fellow breast cancer survivor.  I bet you have had a lot of us to respond!  I am excited to hear your positive attitude and know it will be one of your most valuable tools in treating the cancer.  I was treated at MDAnderson in Houston for stage one, estrogen dependent breast cancer with no lymph node involvement.  Treatment was in the form of a  segmental mastectomy (lumpectomy), partial radiation (twice a day for 7 days) and 6 months of chemotherapy (prompted by the oncotype score).  As a nurse I was not aware of the oncotype for determining whether stage one,no lymph node involvement might warrant chemotherapy.  Not the news I wanted to hear but preferred to do all I could on the front end to prevent a serious reoccurrence which can be very difficult to treat/cure.  I apologize for being so lengthy but I wanted to say that I have been where you are.  Someone (who had cancer  2 times) told me “cancer is a gift in a black box”.  You seem to have received a “gift”.  I received several gifts from my experience.  The most valuable one being “perspective”.  Things that were “problems” before are now irritations/inconveniences.  The challenge for me is to not forget about that gift of perspective.  As time passes, it is easy to fall back into my old ways and think of everything as a problem. I try to be very intentional about maintaining the perspective.

    All this said, I did learn another very important thing.  The value of a second opinion from a center of excellence if possible. Even if “I liked my doctor” or if I simply like what he recommended as treatment.  Please forgive this unsolicited advice but I was fortunate to have a friend give me this encouragement.  I will be forever grateful!  Every case is different with many variables.  I wanted a fact based recommendation and not just an opinion.  I wanted to data.  I was able to get this and make my decision an informed one.  Please know my encouragement is given in the spirit of “what would I want another survivor to share with me”.  

    I wish you the
    very best and a future free of cancer!Report

    Reply
  29. Sandi says:

    Maria- I am writing as a fellow breast cancer survivor.  I bet you have had a lot of us to respond!  I am excited to hear your positive attitude and know it will be one of your most valuable tools in treating the cancer.  I was treated at MDAnderson in Houston for stage one, estrogen dependent breast cancer with no lymph node involvement.  Treatment was in the form of a  segmental mastectomy (lumpectomy), partial radiation (twice a day for 7 days) and 6 months of chemotherapy (prompted by the oncotype score).  As a nurse I was not aware of the oncotype for determining whether stage one,no lymph node involvement might warrant chemotherapy.  Not the news I wanted to hear but preferred to do all I could on the front end to prevent a serious reoccurrence which can be very difficult to treat/cure.  I apologize for being so lengthy but I wanted to say that I have been where you are.  Someone (who had cancer  2 times) told me “cancer is a gift in a black box”.  You seem to have received a “gift”.  I received several gifts from my experience.  The most valuable one being “perspective”.  Things that were “problems” before are now irritations/inconveniences.  The challenge for me is to not forget about that gift of perspective.  As time passes, it is easy to fall back into my old ways and think of everything as a problem. I try to be very intentional about maintaining the perspective.

    All this said, I did learn another very important thing.  The value of a second opinion from a center of excellence if possible. Even if “I liked my doctor” or if I simply like what he recommended as treatment.  Please forgive this unsolicited advice but I was fortunate to have a friend give me this encouragement.  I will be forever grateful!  Every case is different with many variables.  I wanted a fact based recommendation and not just an opinion.  I wanted to data.  I was able to get this and make my decision an informed one.  Please know my encouragement is given in the spirit of “what would I want another survivor to share with me”.  

    I wish you the
    very best and a future free of cancer!Report

    Reply
  30. DavidHicks says:

    Maria, over Twentyyears ago I was diagnosed with melanoma on the back of my left calf, a small jet black spot. Excision and byopsy followed by a second surgery. I was quite fortunate, type1. I found cancer did not define me, but it did change me. A spiritual quest ensued which continues today.
    Sending you warm thoughts and prayers… Have you thought about keeping a journal as your recovery unfolds? Was helpful for me. Blessings, DavidReport

    Reply
  31. Melody Harclerode says:

    Maria, thank you for sharing this poignant journey with your readers.  We have known your courage for years, and appreciate it even more these days.Report

    Reply
  32. Noel M says:

    Maria, as a long-time reader of your writing, I am sorry to hear this news. BUt I appreciate your fantastic attitude and will say the same thing I shared with others when President Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with cancer: if anybody can beat it and manage it, I am sure you can! Sending warm wishes and healing thoughts.Report

    Reply
  33. Art Harris says:

    Maria—
    My mother beat this in her 70s and lived healthy to 91; a
    sister also kicked it to the curb. I will think of you whenever I wear my pink
    tie, and join your legion of friends and fans in sending you the booster shot
    that helps modern medicine work it’s magic: lots of love (and prayers).
    Just take it in and know we’re visualizing the bad C on his
    back, as sportswriters report a Maria knockout punch in early rounds. The
    question is, why does Vegas refuse to lay down odds, when they will bet on
    anything? They know, like we do.
    No one bets against Maria. Always, ArtReport

    Reply

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