Reality TV game shows like the popular CBS series Survivor, herald the ‘last person to remain on the island’ as a hero. Newer shows, like NBC’s The Biggest Loser, show the battle waged against obesity, documenting the often heroic triumphs of the contestants.
Reality shows; however, most often utilize cinemagic to paint a skewed reality for the audience. In real life, there is no ‘immunity’ granted when life’s tribulations arise.
The reality TV trend is slowly fading, but the need for real heroes is still in high demand.
Over the next few months, Real Survivors from all over Pittsburgh will share their inspirational stories of survival in the series, The REAL Survivor.
Series 1: Nicole Warden, Breast Cancer Survivor
Nicole Warden has many names – to name a few; Daughter, Mother, Wife, Friend, and Educator. The last name bestowed upon her was not attained easily – Survivor.
At 35 years-of-age, Nicole was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
In the interview below, Nicole shares her candid, witty, and inspirational story to offer hope to other women afflicted with the disease.
How did you discover that you had cancer?
“I first discovered a lump in my right breast as I was nursing my son who, at the time, was 6 months old. I thought it might be a clogged milk duct, but decided that I better get it checked out. My OBG thought that it was also a clogged milk duct, but didn’t want to take any chances, so he sent me for a mammogram and ultra sound. The doctor analyzing the images was “concerned” by what he saw, so he told me that I needed to get an ultrasound guided biopsy. The doctor performing the biopsy was not concerned; however, because he thought it looked like fibro adenoma, a benign tumor. Unfortunately, I received the call that it was in fact cancerous on February 7 of this year.”
What specific type of cancer were you diagnosed with having?
“I was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma, her-2 positive, estrogen receptor positive.”
What were your initial treatment options?
“I really wasn’t given any “options.” I was told right away what preliminary tests needed to be done and when my chemo would begin. I was told what would work best, and there was a set schedule for what my treatments would be like.”
Which option did you choose and why did you make the choice?
“I was; however, given the option to be a part of a study. In the study, I was to be given all of the protocol treatments, but in addition, given an extra drug that usually is given to women with metastatic disease. They wanted to see how it affected women with non-metastatic cancer. I chose to be a part of the study. What was nice was having a study coordinator to see me through the treatments, help me schedule appointments, check on me and any symptoms I was getting, and just be there as an extra person to talk to and ask questions.
After chemo, I did have an option as to the type of surgery I would receive. The lumpectomy would have had a much easier recovery, but I would have to continue with mammograms and the worries of whether or not the cancer would return. Plus, the breast with the cancer is also slightly smaller than the unaffected breast, which meant that it would leave my breasts even more asymmetrical after the lumpectomy. My body did respond extremely well to the chemo. This gave the doctors a very positive prognosis for me. The doctors felt that cancer would most likely not return. I didn’t want to take that chance, not to mention that I didn’t want to go for the radiation treatments. The mastectomy would be a lot harder to heal from, plus I would lose sensation in my breasts. On a positive note, I would no longer have to worry about mammograms or cancer returning, plus…here’s the best part, perfect, perky C cups that won’t end up looking like deflated balloons when I’m 80! As narcissistic as it might seem, I wanted the nice boobs. I felt that if I had to go through chemotherapy, I deserved nice boobs! Plus, I really wanted to never have to worry about cancer again.”
What surprised you about your reaction to the treatments?
“I was pleasantly surprised about how well I responded to the chemo. Even now, all of the doctors and nurses who have looked at the end result of the surgery all think it looks great! (And so far, it’s just the tissue expanders. I haven’t yet received the implants yet. That will come in 4 months minimum after this first surgery).”
What advice would you offer to others who have been diagnosed with the same form of cancer?
“The advice I would give others going through the same type of cancer would be to go through Magee Women’s Hospital and request Dr. Rachel Jankowitz as their oncologist, Dr. Gretchen Ahrendt as their breast surgeon, and Dr. Michael Gimbel as their plastic surgeon. Go for the bilateral mastectomy with reconstructive surgery, and always ALWAYS stay positive! It also helps to talk about treatments with someone who either has gone through it, or who is currently going through it. I have a friend from back home who was going through the surgery around the same time, and she and I got each other through it.”
Using only one word for each, describe yourself before your diagnosis, during your treatment, and now.
If you wish to send a note to Nicole, please email [email protected] and they will be forwarded to her.
To reach Cheree, email [email protected]
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