For many women, turning 40 is a special celebration with family, friends, love and laughter. It is also an age for some women to receive their very first mammogram — a daunting appointment, but one that could save their lives.
For Amy DiPaolo, getting her first mammogram when she turned forty led to finding a lump, starting her journey with breast cancer and coming out on the other side stronger, happier and ready to share her experience with those who face their own cancer diagnosis.
Amy had just turned forty on April 19th, 2017. She went for her very first mammogram a few weeks later. Although the results from her mammogram came back as “normal,” she was told that she had dense breast tissue and required an ultrasound.
A few weeks following her mammogram, she felt something serious: a small, hard lump on her left breast. Her doctor advised her to get the ultrasound immediately.
“I knew while it was happening that there was something wrong,” said Amy. Amy recalled being told that she needed to have a biopsy — and that the radiologist “just didn’t know” what to tell her about the lump she had found.
“So the panic set in,” added Amy.
A few days later after her biopsy, she received the news with her husband by her side: she had stage 1 breast cancer and was ER-positive. The cancer was not in her lymph nodes and her genetic tests were all negative.
“I thought my life was over,” said Amy. “I thought this was it; the beginning of the end. How can this happen to me? I am healthy, I exercise, I have two small children!”
Together with her husband, they talked for hours about her next steps and what she needed to do — “…most of which was a blur,” added Amy.
“We got right to work that night — researching doctors, setting up appointments with crying a lot in between,” said Amy. “Within a week, I chose an amazing breast surgeon and team to help me through it.”
On July 13, 2017, Amy had a lumpectomy, breast reconstruction and five lymph nodes removed. She then went through chemotherapy from August through October, and radiation from November to December of that year.
“I won’t lie, getting through the surgery and treatment was tough,“ said Amy. “But I stayed focused on two things: me and living my best life!”
She added, “It took an army to get me through this really tough time. It felt like the longest road I have ever taken with no end in sight.”
Amy credits the love and support of her family and friends getting her through her breast cancer diagnosis. She said she focused on the important things, like spending time with her children and family, and being around the people she loves.
“My husband literally held me up and held our family together as our rock,” said Amy. “My children, my parents and my siblings were there every step of the way. My community was amazing; they made dinners for me and my family for a month straight so it was one less thing to worry about.”
Amy added, “My colleagues checked in on me constantly. My closest friends sat with me and made me laugh.”
Through her breast cancer journey, Amy met other women going through a similar experience with this disease.
“My new fellow breast cancer friends — who I call my bosom buddies — helped me see the light, that I was going to get through this and that indeed there was an end to this crazy road,” said Amy. “Having these women in my life who have gone through what I was going through gave me so much strength. They helped me accept my new normal.”
It was crucial for Amy that she chose a team of doctors that spent the time with her as needed to make her feel comfortable and help answer “…my crazy questions” as she battled breast cancer. Her oncologist in particular was a great source of strength.
“I am really lucky to have found my amazing oncologist who knows exactly what to say and how to help me through,” said Amy. “She was honest, caring, optimistic and, most importantly, accessible.”
In spite of the tough times and difficulties that came with breast cancer, Amy feels positive, happy and ready to move forward.
“Something so terrible in my life has led me to happiness and appreciation of everything around me,” she said. “I have always been a pretty happy and positive person, but breast cancer has changed me; I have bad days just like every human, but in general, I am just really happy and I love my life.”
Amy stressed the importance of being breast self-aware and being your own advocate when it comes to your health.
“Get your boobs checked — and don’t be afraid to self-check,” said Amy. “My mammogram didn’t even detect my cancer even after it was marked with the biopsy, so it’s just as important to check yourself and be your own advocate.”
Most importantly, Amy adds — take the time to enjoy life and the memories and moments you experience each day, no matter what you are facing.
“Live your best life — don’t wait around to live life,” said Amy. “Take the vacation, read the book, avoid drama, let your house get a little messy, spend time with people you love, be kind, help others, be happy.”
For all of the other women and men out there facing a breast cancer diagnosis, Amy’s best advice is to take the time you need to focus on yourself and well-being.
“Breathe — you will get through it!” said Amy. “Put yourself first and surround yourself with love.”
Amy will be joining Komen New Jersey for the Virtual MORE THAN PINK Walk on Sunday, October 4 online and alongside the ones she loves the most. We’re sharing stories and raising funds differently in the time of COVID-19, but with no less impact — giving hope to other women and co-survivors facing breast cancer.
Click here to join Amy and register for the Virtual Walk today!