It was a busy, happy and heart wrenching time all rolled into one for Elizabeth Frederick when she was dealt a blow that would be unlike anything else she had ever encountered.
“I was 48 and planning my husband’s 50th birthday party. On top of that, my mom’s health was failing and I was getting ready to move her into a nursing home,” said Frederick.
She did manage to get her mom into the nursing home, but her husband’s party would have to wait.
“I hadn’t been feeling well on and off for a while and knew that I wasn’t my usual energetic self. I’d come home from work and be just wiped out, so I knew something wasn’t quite right with me,” said Frederick, who soon found herself at the dermatologist for her yearly skin check appointment.
Something is wrong
“He looked at me during the exam and said, ‘I don’t like your coloring. There is something seriously wrong with your system, which I fear will come to a head very soon,’” she added.
And, it did.
“From then on it was as if someone had pulled the rug out from under my feet. I went from having a mammography to being told I had a walnut-sized lump in my left breast, which was growing very fast. An ultrasound followed along with a biopsy and the news that I had cancer,” said Frederick, who went on to have a mastectomy and six lymph nodes removed. Chemotherapy and radiation followed, then breast reconstruction.
Her cancer returns
Fast forward from 2002 and Frederick’s first bout with breast cancer to 2014.
“It started with a little mole on my right breast that was removed by my dermatologist. About a year later, it came back once again, and at the same time I felt a lump in the area around my nipple, so I went to see Dr. Wilson Mertens at the Baystate Regional Cancer Program, and he referred me to a breast surgeon there,” said Frederick.
“My breast surgeon…..I felt so good about being in her hands….tried her best to save my breast. When the biopsy results came back, the result was infiltrating ductal carcinoma, HER2 positive, grade 2,” she added.
A more aggressive cancer
HER2 positive breast cancers are usually more aggressive, but still her breast surgeon was able to save her breast and Frederick underwent a lumpectomy and had just one positive lymph gland which was removed.
After healing from her operation, Frederick had four chemotherapy treatments of Taxotere/Cyclophosphamide, then 33 radiation treatments.
Everything was fine, Frederick said, until 2016 when she felt a hard hump on the left side where her first cancer was located.
“It didn’t feel like a breast lump to me, and I thought it might be something from the reconstruction. It hurt me. Dr. Mertens didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about, but sent me back to my breast surgeon, who also didn’t think it was anything serious. But, she wanted to do surgery just to make sure, and I was happy to learn after the surgery that it just a calcification,” said Frederick.
A message to women
Frederick said she has a message for other women diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I want to let women know there is hope and to not give up. Have your cry, let your fears out, but don’t let it engulf your life and suffocate you. Enjoy life while you can and remain positive that your cancer may never return,” she said.
And, Frederick has kept herself busy.
“I’ve done several projects about breast cancer that I hope will help other women to let go some of their fears,” she said.
Rays of Hope
The breast cancer survivor, who is from Hampden, is in a book titled “Still Beautiful” by Michelle Igleslas and Terran Bagamary. She also participated in a photo shoot that was displayed at American International College along with a brief history of her cancer journey. Frederick also became involved in One in Eight: The Torso Project – a collaborative art project consisting of workshops and exhibits that aim to bring awareness and healing to the incidence of breast cancer. Women affected by breast cancer participate in workshops where they cast their torso in plaster and create healing works of art. At a later date, participants show their completed torsos at a community exhibit.
“The Torso Project was a very moving and enjoyable time. It was fun getting to talk and just let go with other woman who have been through breast cancer,” said Frederick.
And, this Sunday, Frederick will be walking along with other folks – some 20,000 of them – in support of the Rays of Hope – Walk & Run Toward the Cure of Breast Cancer. She walks with team: In Loving Memory And for the Cure... We bounce.
“I’ve been doing the walk for at least 10 years now. It took me about five years before my soul felt healed before I could do my first walk. I felt a rush of being overwhelmed and began to tear up when I first saw the arch of pink balloons. I still feel that way,” said Frederick, who will be making the walk again this year with her daughter, Cher, by her side.
Should you get screened for breast cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. Learn more about when you should get screened.