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Normal feels great, says breast cancer survivor Sara Scibelli

October 19, 2017

When Sara Scibelli left the Baystate Health Breast & Wellness Center one day back in 2015, she and her husband looked at each other somberly.

“Well, that’s not what I expected,” said her husband, Rico.

Sara, who had just turned 40, learned she had breast cancer.

The news wasn't good

Just days earlier, Sara was at her gynecologist’s office for an annual exam, when the doctor felt a lump in her left breast. She sent Sara for a mammogram, which wasn’t definitive, so an ultrasound was performed which more clearly showed the tumor. A biopsy was ordered and the news wasn’t good.

“I was in a state of shock. This wasn’t supposed to happen at all. I truly thought my diagnosis was going to be fine. I felt very good, led a healthy life, did everything I was supposed to do….it was a hit in the gut to me,” said Sara.

“So, I felt there was no rhyme or reason to it, that it’s the cards you’re dealt with when you are born,” she added.

A family history

But, there was a family history of breast cancer. Both her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister died of the disease. Still, she had no genetic disposition to breast cancer.

“Dr. Holly Mason, my breast surgeon, sent me to Dr. Grace Makari-Judson, who oversesee es the hospital’s Family Cancer Risk Program. I was tested for the BRCA gene mutation, but it came back negative,” said Sara.

At first, it looked as if she would be able to get by with a lumpectomy and radiation.

A roller coaster ride

“It was a real roller coaster ride. Dr. Mason sent me for an MRI which showed that the tumor was larger than expected, and that I wouldn’t be a candidate for just a lumpectomy. Instead, I would need a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. I also elected to have reconstructive surgery at the same time,” said Sara, who didn’t need to have any lymph nodes removed.

What doctors also learned prior to her surgery was the Sara was HER2 positive. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive, so she also received a targeted treatment of Herceptin – which is ending this month – a drug which is known to significantly reduce recurrence and improve survival.

Scibelli had more than kind words for her care team at the Baystate Regional Cancer Program.

Team was amazing

“The whole team was amazing. I honestly owe my life to both Dr. Mason and Dr. Makari-Judson. I may have been dealt a bad card, but I was dealt with the two best people to care for me,” she said.

And Sara's words of gratitude also extend to her reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Pranay Parikh.

“I think back to that day of surgery, just two years ago this month, and how scared I was. But I remember meeting you for the first time before that, and you really made me and my husband feel like I was going to survive. And, up until then, I didn’t have that feeling because I was 40, getting my cancer diagnosis and learning that I would need a mastectomy….it just through me for a loop,” she said.

Normal is great

“I remember Dr. Parikh asking me what I wanted to look like after surgery and answering that I just wanted to look like me. And I feel like me again…..I didn’t have to change anything, other than having chemotherapy and taking the Herceptin. I’m me again because of him, and normal is great, normal is great,” added Sara.

She will be walking among the more than 20,000 walkers and runners expected to attend this weekend’s 24th Annual Rays of Hope – Walk & Run Toward the Cure of Breast Cancer.

Sara has been walking for 18 years, long before her own cancer, and 13 years ago formed a team called “Motley Crusaders,” to which her mom suggested a recent name change after Sara’s cancer to “Motley Crusaders – Sara Strong.”

A supportive husband

And, one last thing, Sara says part of the reason why she survived was because of her husband.

“He was there for me every minute. He didn’t miss a doctor’s appointment,” she said lovingly.