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 Written in October 2008 by Julie Marks

October is breast cancer awareness month. We've all seen those little pink ribbons on lapels, but what are the individual stories behind those ribbons? There are millions, and here's mine.


I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2007. I had a double mastectomy in October and completed 8 rounds of chemotherapy. It's been a crazy several months.

How did it all start? I had been having really bad back pain in my lower back last summer and was going for x-rays and MRI's and even tried acupuncture and all different stretch exercises and things to treat the back pain, but it still persisted. During an appointment with my new general doctor, she asked the typical questions about family health history. Upon hearing that my mother had breast cancer, she demanded that I have a baseline mammogram. She was furiously disappointed that I hadn't had one already given that I am 37-years old and my mother had breast cancer and passed away from the disease at the age of 30. I have to admit, for excuses I won't get into, I fell asleep at the wheel.









October 23, 2008 - More than 25,000 people  25,420, including 1,661 survivors lined up on Central Park West before 9:20 am on Sunday, September 14 for the 2008 Komen NYC Race for the Cure. Men, women and children filled Central Park with attendance up nearly 15 percent from 2007.


I went for my first mammogram in July of 2007. The radiologist saw something suspicious and called me back for another mammogram on the left breast. Again, they saw something suspicious and called me back for an ultrasound and ultimately a biopsy which was positive. I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. I was completely paralyzed with fear during this time, yet somehow put one foot in front of the other to swiftly deal with the situation. I immediately contacted an old friend who happens to be a top of the line breast surgeon, much to my good fortune. He provided a thorough consult and whisked me through the necessary tests and breast surgery. Everything happened very fast from the time of diagnosis to surgery to even now- it all feels like a blur or a dream (or should I say nightmare).

Even though I had the cancer in the left breast, I elected for a double mastectomy. I didn't want to be dealing with this situation again in the future due to a possible recurrence in the other breast, plus I figured silicone implants would be symmetrical if I had both breasts reconstructed. After the breast cancer surgery I convalesced at my brother's home - two brothers and my parents live in same area and all work together so I had family to support me throughout. After recovering a bit at my brother's I went back to my apartment in New York City and my cousin came to live with me and take care of me. I couldn't do anything for myself because my chest and arm muscles were not working after the operation and took a long time to heal. As the weeks turned to months I regained my full range of motion but still have slight chest muscle debilitation. It will get back to normal eventually.


I started chemo about 8 weeks after surgery and that was extremely trying. I laid around on the couch a lot feeling extremely tired because the chemo whacks the white blood cells and that is what made me so tired. A month after chemo finished I had my silicone implants. I'm very happy with them. At this time I go to the breast clinic once a month for a bone drug (Zomeda) that is to prevent any future spread of the disease.

I was fortunate in that due to the mammogram this was caught in an early stage, Stage I. I had been checking my breasts monthly and historically had dense breasts, so it was difficult to make out this lump. The mass was 1.9 cm (the size of a dime) and did not spread to the lymph nodes. I had a full body scan at the time of diagnosis and the doctors did not see anything anywhere else. All is looking good and I continue to have the same very positive attitude as from the beginning. As scary as something like this can be, I've chosen to take it day by day and focus on doing the treatment suggested by my doctors. I've had tons of support from family and friends, and that has been so helpful to me. I really am doing quite well now given the entire situation.


During my last visit to the breast clinic I sat in a treatment chair next to another patient. We got chatting and she shared her story. She was diagnosed with a 4 centimeter tumor at the age of 53, and now at 59, is battling a liver metastasis. Her mother had breast cancer in her 50's and passed away 4 years after her diagnosis. I was saddened to hear about the late-stage diagnosis of the woman sitting next to me and couldn't help but ask myself, why had this happened? The woman confided that she had been behind with her mammograms.



Recently, my thirty year-old sister-in-law has been experiencing an ache in her breast and the doctor said that she was too young to be worried about breast cancer. I was furious to hear this. It makes me want to march into that doctors office and tell him, or her, my story. Fortunately, my sister-in-law is educated and refuses to stop at that and is seeking medical attention until she gets the answers she needs. Additionally, my friend, Stefanie LaRue, founder of metooyoutoo.org, was misdiagnosed several times and told she was too young to have breast cancer. She continues to courageously triumph and it's been 2 years since her Stage 4 diagnosis with metastases.


I share my story to raise breast cancer awareness. My hope is that every woman will be vigilant in caring for her breasts. Please take it upon yourself to become educated about your breasts. Learn how to do a proper monthly BSE (breast self examine). Get a baseline mammogram at 35 if you have a family history, and beginning at 40 at the latest. Seek out breast cancer education and awareness organizations to learn more about your breasts and know the signs and symptoms associated with breast cancer. Have a concerned OB/GYN and general doctor. Be empowered and proactive.



Julie K. Marks


Following are a few links to breast cancer organizations:

Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation www.komen.org

National Breast Cancer Foundation www.nationalbreastcancer.org

The Maurer Foundation for Breast Health Education www.maurerfoundation.org


Cancer Schmancer Movement www.cancerschmancer.org/index.php

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners  www.bcpp.org  

On Sunday, September 14, 2008 I participated in the Race for the Cure and raised over $3,000. 


Julie Marks and Rachel Salansky at the 2008 Komen Race for the Cure

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