Listening to your body, self-breast examinations, and speaking up at your doctor’s visits when something feels different in your body are the first steps to being your own health advocate. Gina Simeone is a true testament to the importance of self-advocacy. At the age of 38, she felt a lump in her left breast and had it checked at her annual OBGYN visit. At the time, the doctor did not feel anything abnormal, so she let it go. In April of 2018, now 39, she felt another lump, and while watching a Grey’s Anatomy episode about breast cancer, Gina decided she could no longer ignore this, despite the fear of what it could be. She had an appointment at her primary care doctor when she decided to speak up about the lumps she felt in her breast. The doctor felt it as well and immediately advised her to have an ultrasound to investigate the lumps further.
She went for imaging right after that visit, where she got the news that the chance she had breast cancer was 90%. Gina says, “It was a shock to my system, and it scared the hell out of me, not knowing if and how bad the cancer could be.”
A few days later, she had her biopsy. The waiting period was about a week, and it was the scariest week of her life. There were two lumps in her left breast and they were both positive. The cancer was not in her lymph nodes as far as they could tell, and she would go straight to surgery for a double mastectomy.
While in surgery, they found three infected lymph nodes and removed a total of eleven. Post-op, her doctor recommended chemotherapy and radiation. After eight intensive rounds of chemotherapy, reconstructive surgery, and 26 radiation treatments at Memorial Sloan Kettering, she concluded the hardest part of her breast cancer journey.
While this journey has emotionally, physically, and mentally impacted Gina’s life and continues to do so, she was very fortunate and able to use this experience to help others. Gina says, “At the time of my diagnosis, I only shared it with my close friends and family. I didn’t want to go public with it because I didn’t want to draw attention, or invoke pity.” After talking it over with her mother and boyfriend Rob, she decided it was time to raise awareness. In October of 2018, after her last chemo treatment, she posted a picture to Facebook. “I want people to know that if you feel something, you need to go get it checked right away. Ignorance is bliss, but if you can find it early, you can save your life (and even your boobs) by doing everything that is medically available to get healthy again. It is also important to have a positive attitude, even if you are faced with a tumultuous road ahead.” As a result, friends of hers were inspired to get their yearly check-ups and she was able to save lives by reminding others to make self-care a priority.
Today, almost two-years cancer-free, Gina, along with her family and friends, continue to fight the fight against breast cancer, and she could not be more grateful to them for all their love and support. Gina joined Komen New Jersey for the MORE THAN PINK Walk last summer and raised over $5,000 with her Team 5678! This year she’s walking again to help raise awareness and funds to fight breast cancer at the 2020 Komen New Jersey Virtual MORE THAN PINK Walk. Not yet registered to participate? Click here to sign up.