“I just saw Dr. Grace Makari-Judson the other day and I’m doing well,” said a beaming Cindy Anderson.
Anderson, of East Longmeadow, sees the popular Baystate Medical Center breast cancer specialist – referred to by many of her beloved patients as “Dr. MJ” – every six months to maintain that she is cancer-free. But it won’t be six months before Anderson sees Dr. Makari-Judson again.
She will be seeing her on Sunday, Oct. 22, when both will be walking in the 24th Annual Rays of Hope – Walk and Run Toward the Cure of Breast Cancer. And, just like Dr. Makari-Judson, Anderson has been walking in western Massachusetts’ largest breast cancer fundraiser since day one.
Diagnosed at age 34
While day one was in 1994 for the Rays of Hope event, day one for Anderson’s breast cancer journey began in 1985 when she was diagnosed at age 34.
“There was no history of breast cancer in my family, and I found the lump during one of my own routine self-breast exams,” said Anderson, who went on to have a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
“At the time, there was no formalized Baystate Regional Cancer Program, no D’Amour Center for Cancer Care, no Rays of Hope for extra support. But, they were all in place by the time my second round with breast cancer occurred in 2013,” Anderson said.
Family Cancer Risk Program
Prior to her second bout with breast cancer, Anderson was familiar with the BRCA gene mutation and had spoken with her ob/gyn physician about the possibility of being tested. At that time, there was increased awareness of genetic testing and cancer susceptibility. She was referred to Dr. Makari-Judson, who has special training in cancer genetics and who started Baystate’s Family Cancer Risk Program. The program guides families through the genetic testing process to determine susceptibility not only to breast cancer, but also to ovarian, colon, prostate and other cancers.
“Although only six percent of breast cancers occur in women under the age of 40, these women are more likely to carry a genetic mutation even if no one else in the family has a known cancer diagnosis,” said Dr. Makari-Judson.
A woman with a prior breast cancer diagnosis and a harmful BRCA 1 or 2 mutation is at higher risk of developing a new breast cancer in remaining breast tissue. Anderson’s test was negative.
"I did it for my daughter"
“I felt I had to do it (the test) for my daughter, so she would know. I was first diagnosed at age 34, and she was now the same age. I could have very well been a carrier of the mutated gene, and knowing that could have changed the course of events for both of us,” Anderson said.
But, even without having the BRCA mutation, Anderson faced a second breast cancer.
It was January of 2013, and time for Anderson’s regular mammogram.
“I remember going on a Friday and expecting a good report as I had been getting since my initial breast cancer. But, this time I got a callback on Monday telling me they needed to take another mammogram, while also booking an ultrasound just in case. They still saw something on the mammogram and went ahead with the ultrasound, which appeared to show a lump. So, Sandy Hubbard, a nurse practitioner in the Breast Center, who I knew well through the Rays of Hope and Breast Cancer Survivors’ Day, got me in for a biopsy right away, and the result wasn’t what I was hoping for – I had a new breast cancer on my right side,” Anderson said.
A double mastectomy
“When I met with Dr. Holly Mason, who was my breast surgeon at Baystate, she told me before doing anything that I would need a biopsy on my other breast, which showed abnormal calcifications. The biopsy showed that I now had cancer in my left breast, too. Dr. Mason said that since I already had radiation to the right breast, I would need to have a mastectomy, but I could still have a lumpectomy and radiation to treat the cancer in the left breast. So, I told her I wanted to go forward with a double mastectomy, which I followed with reconstruction of both breasts,” she added.
Even before her second battle with breast cancer, Anderson became very active first in the Rays of Hope, then with Breast Cancer Survivors’ Day. She hasn’t missed a single walk, and has lent a helping hand to every Survivors’ Day since it began in 1998.
“I don’t remember how I heard about it, but I just remember needing to walk in this first-time event for breast cancer survivors and others back in 1994.There was no team, just a friend and I who walked. That first Rays of Hope was so different back then. It was small enough that you could actually park in the Temple Beth El parking lot, and the walk set off in the opposite direction from today,” Anderson said.
Never missed a step
But, she almost missed stepping off in 1999, when attending Parents Weekend at her son’s college.
“I couldn’t miss it and just had to walk, it was very important to me. So, we left Parents Weekend a little early on Sunday and got to the walk at about 2 p.m. I remember Sandy (Hubbard) was cleaning up because mostly everyone had returned. But, I told her it didn’t matter. I was there to walk no matter what, and I did,” said Anderson, who today is often accompanied by her husband Tom, daughter Sara, son Kyle and daughter-in-law Amy, as well as other family and friends.
“And, when one year Sandy had a table at the Rays of Hope looking for volunteers to help with a new Rays of Hope project called Survivors’ Day, I signed up for that and volunteer each year at the event,” she added.
If that isn’t enough, Anderson has served on the Rays of Hope Community Advisory Board for the past three years, assisting in the grant application process.
It's important to give back
“As a breast cancer survivor, the Rays of Hope helped me in many ways, and I think it is important to give back,” said Anderson.
As in past years, this year’s Rays of Hope begins at Temple Beth El on Dickinson Street with a two- or five-mile route for the walk along with the 8K run. Check-in for the run begins at 7:30 a.m. followed by step off at 8:30 a.m., while check-in for the walk begins at 8:30 a.m. followed by step off at 10:30 a.m. Buses begin operating at 7:30 a.m. for runners and at 8:30 a.m. for walkers to shuttle them to Temple Beth El. Parking for runners is only at the Lenox (formerly American Saw) lot in East Longmeadow at 301 Chestnut St.
Since its inception in 1994 by Lucy Giuggio Carvalho, Rays of Hope has grown from 500 participants raising $50,000 to some 24,000 participants comprising some 600 teams raising a to-date total of over $13.7 million.
All monies raised remain local and administered by the Baystate Health Foundation to assist patients and their families affected by breast cancer. Funds support the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research, as well as treatment, breast health programs, outreach and education, and the purchase of state-of-the art equipment through the Baystate Health Breast Network. Monies also provide grants to various community programs throughout western Massachusetts.
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Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. Learn more about when you should get screened.