Profession: Author, Breast Cancer Advocate
Type of Breast Cancer: Stage I Multifocal Invasive Breast Cancer
Number of years as a survivor: 17 years
Relationship to Susan G. Komen: Race Participant
Since my breast cancer diagnosis in July 2000 I became a strong advocate for breast cancer. At the time of my diagnosis, I worked for a surgical oncologist at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. From the moment I was diagnosed, I knew too well what I was in for. Because of my line of work, I helped and listened to the stories of women diagnosed. The heart wrenching stories from each woman truly touched me, and the memories of them kept me awake some nights.
Before my diagnosis, cancer had struck my family. When I was a teenager, my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, people did not talk about breast, and much less cancer. My aunt’s diagnosis of cancer was a hasty whisper that I caught from the adults with frightened looks on their faces.
I was diligent about my annual mammography because I knew my family’s history. The year I was diagnosed, I had postponed the exam for 1 month to take care of my mother. When I finally went in for my mammography, I wasn’t frightened. I expected to be told there wasn’t any indication of cancer. But while I waited for the technician, something changed. There was a distressed young woman waiting across from me, her fear was contagious. Before I could control it, I begun to doubt. The pain from the mammography machine was unbearable. I thought “a man must have invented this machine.”
The worst of my fears came true when I was diagnosed with Stage I Invasive Breast Cancer. I instantly thought about my husband, John, and my mother, who had just undergone surgery. I can honestly say that the first words John told me, “I will never stop loving you,” were the fuel to keep me fighting. Throughout my journey, I was also blessed to have my mother in the first row. I had the opportunity to support her at a time of need, when at the age of 87, my mother developed breast cancer. The doctors and nurses could not believe that my mother was asking for a sandwich while on treatment. Who does that while getting Herceptin? My mother, Lena Papale.
In the years after my diagnosis, I have authored two books, The Empty Cup Runneth Over and Miami Breast Center Experts. I had an amazing book signing, with 350 guests in attendance, plus a live stream to over 40,000 people. I was blessed to have great people write testimonials in both books: Ann Hemingway, my dear friend and niece to Ernest Hemingway; Ms. Tracy Mourning, our former Miami Heat Player’s wife, Alonso Mourning; Singer John Secada’s wife Maitere; Vince Papale, my cousin and former Philadelphia Eagle Football Player; to name a few. I participate in various community events that give back to organizations focused on research and support of Survivors and Metavivors. I am also a member of the most amazing group of women called “The Link of Hope Sistas;” founded by my best friend, author, producer, Emmy Award Winner, amazing woman, and maid of honor at my wedding: Patricia San Pedro. As you can see, since I retired, I am all over the place and love to pay it forward.