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May 2, 2020

Baring It All: Two Moms Share their Breast Cancer Story to Raise Awareness

By Maggie Rodriguez

Several months ago, two members of our team were diagnosed with breast cancer within weeks of each other. This Mother’s Day, these courageous moms reveal their struggles, hoping to spread an important message. 

This is also a reminder to re-book your mammogram and other routine screenings now that medical offices are able to re-open as the Safer at Home order lifts. 

Nicole Barolo

Highlighting the importance of timing

Nicole Barolo finally got around to the routine mammogram she had delayed scheduling. She endured the discomfort, then went on with her life and waited for the usual quick call with the results. But it never came.

Instead, while headed home from a weekend road trip, Barolo got a call informing her that the doctor wanted to give her the results in person. While her husband drove and her kids played iPad games in the backseat, Barolo says she “had the entire eight hours to play the ‘what-if’ game. I already knew what they had to tell me.”

Barolo was diagnosed with grade 3 DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ). Breast cancer. But how? How could this happen to a healthy 42-year-old whose only family link to cancer was her maternal grandmother, who had beaten the disease? It can happen to anyone. Fortunately, Barolo’s cancer had not yet spread beyond the breast’s ductal system. But grade 3 indicated an aggressive cancer, which required aggressive action, she decided. Within weeks of diagnosis—in a span of just four months— she endured three surgeries: a lumpectomy, a bilateral, double mastectomy, and a final operation to remove the remaining cancer cells. It was grueling, but her humor remained intact. “I feel like I should have qualified for some ‘Platinum Select Club’ at the hospital,” she jokes. In late March, Barolo was declared cancer-free. But she faced a new challenge that, just weeks earlier, would have been unimaginable: recovering from cancer amidst a global pandemic.

“My body has been focused on healing internally and my immune system may not be at 100 percent yet,” she says, mindful of the risks from COVD-19. “We have been extra careful about staying home. I’ve told my boys how washing hands and social distancing could make a difference for me.” Fully aware of the possible consequences, but not dwelling on them, Barolo has instead been reveling in the extra time with her husband, John and their sons, 10-year-old Luca and 8-year-old Jude. Taking long walks, learning choreographed dances from a dance app and cracking up laughing while doing Mad Libs together has been just what the doctor ordered. 

Even though Barolo’s diagnosis coincided with the coronavirus crisis, she says the timing was fortuitous. Had she scheduled her mammogram appointment sooner— she was told— the cancer might not have been detectable yet. Had she waited, it might have spread. “Unchecked DCIS turns into invasive breast cancer,” she says. “It’s just a miracle that it was found at the very beginning.” 

Barolo’s story is a lesson for every woman about the importance of routine mammograms. If not for the test, the cancer would have gone undiagnosed. “I have felt like a ‘mammogram ambassador’ and have told every woman in my life to get one,” she says. “It’s unbelievable how lucky I was.”

Nicole owns Page Four Creative. She is the designer who puts together the beautiful pages of our magazine each month.

Anu Panchal

Finding hope for healing and strength in sharing 

Anu Panchal was reluctant to share her story. But she decided to put aside her hesitation and open up about an immensely private ordeal in order to potentially save lives. Your life. 

Before the fateful day that changed the course of Panchal’s life, the 44-year-old mother of two was successfully juggling work, marriage and parenting. Her balancing act was upended when she went for her annual exam and her OB/GYN discovered a “very suspicious” lump in her breast that turned out to be cancer.

“I fell apart inside while trying to be as normal as possible on the outside,” Panchal remembers of the days after the diagnosis. Defaulting to caregiver mode, she focused through inner turmoil on keeping it together for her children and parents, with whom she hadn’t shared the news yet. “I was terrified, panicked and couldn’t find my way out of it,” she says. Then Panchal began talking to and reading accounts of other women who were dealing with cancer by remaining positive and proactive in their own care. “I clung to their voices and stories and the panic slowly abated,” she says. She also surrendered to her family and friends, and something magical happened. Roles reversed, and those who normally leaned on her became her supports. “My pragmatic husband has been a rock doing absolutely everything, and my children help me just by being themselves,” she says “Seeing their unshakable love, faith and commitment has made it almost a mandate for me to do whatever I can to not give up on myself.”

Since her diagnosis in February, Panchal has had a lumpectomy and re-excision surgeries to remove the tumor. But her battle with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, the most common type of invasive breast cancer, might just be beginning. Mapping out the next steps in her treatment has been challenging in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. “They no longer allow an additional person to come in with you to appointments,” Panchal says. “So I’ve had to go in alone and have my husband be there on FaceTime from his car outside. I also worry more about becoming potentially immunocompromised by any treatments.” 

Panchal is taking one step at a time. She’s enjoying simple pleasures like having dinner and then watching a Star Wars movie marathon with her husband, Nik and their daughters, 15-year-old Uma and 12-year-old Radha. She finds hope in others’ success stories, like the aunt who battled the disease and the countless strangers who’ve shared their experiences publicly. These courageous women inspired Anu to venture outside her comfort zone and share her story, too— hoping that her message will resonate. “If I could tell women one thing, it would be to make the appointment for that annual doctor visit!” she pleads. “And get your mammograms if you’re supposed to.”

Anu is our associate editor who often writes for the magazine and assists with copy editing each month.

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