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Women's Health

Beating Breast Cancer in Indiana

Stories from two local mothers

October 01, 2011
In 2007 Traci Runge quietly donated her own Healthy breast tissue to the Komen Tissue Bank. It was a gesture she did to honor an acquaintance who was battling the disease. She never mentioned the kind act to the woman.

Three years later while training for a triathlon, Runge, who has three daughters, felt a lump on her breast. She was only 41, physically fit, and had received mammograms - all healthy - since age 36. She gave it three weeks to go away on its own. It didn't. By the third week the lump had protruded through the skin. She went to the breast surgeon and dozens of tumors were found in her breast. She was diagnosed with triple positive invasive ductal carcinoma.

As she endured the biopsies and tests all patients face at the onset of breast cancer, she prayed for the purpose of her life to be revealed. That's when it dawned on her to donate her cancerous breast tissue. "If I was going to die I was going to do everything in my power to protect my girls and this was the only way," she said.

She became the first woman in the world to donate both healthy and cancerous breast tissue to a breast cancer tissue bank, giving researchers their first full-view comparison of healthy to cancerous breast tissue. She feels her prayers were answered.

She did eight rounds of chemotherapy, had a mastectomy, and endured six weeks of every day radiation. She then continued with Herceptin every three weeks until this July. Now a year-and-a-half past diagnosis, Runge said she is cancer free and is the face of the Indy's Super Cure campaign, a 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee initiative to raise awareness and funds for the Komen Tissue Bank.

As she moves into the survivorship stage of her diagnosis, she believes the beginning was the hardest part of the journey. "That first week where you know you have breast cancer but you don't know what type or what your plan is going to be, that is going to be the worst week throughout all of it. Once you find out your plan you feel like you can handle breast cancer because now you know what you are going to face," she said.

Her thoughts are echoed by another local breast cancer survivor Sheri Acquisto, who at age 33 was diagnosed with stage 2 infiltrated ductal carcinoma. At the time, she had a toddler and wanted a second child. During a routine exam the doctor felt something abnormal in Acquisto's left breast and asked Acquisto to schedule a mammogram.

Acquisto had the mammogram, which was quickly followed by an ultrasound and directions to see a breast surgeon. She did. Upon examination, the breast surgeon had her undergo a biopsy. She then had to wait seven days for the results of the biopsy.

"In hind site those seven days were the worst seven days of the entire thing. You know in your heart you have cancer and your mind goes to awful places. Once you get the results they so quickly go to a plan for beating it that you feel proactive at that point. It's the unknown that's the most scary," said Acquisto.

Acquisto underwent eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a modified radical mastectomy where her entire breast was removed as were several lymph nodes under her arm. She then did 35 rounds of radiation and is now on oral medication.

Because her cancer was fueled by estrogen and she tested positive for the BRCA2 gene, Acquisto chose to have her ovaries and other breast removed as preventative measures.

"[Removing my ovaries] was a difficult decision because in taking this preventative measure I was saying no to more children. It was a hard decision to come to, but the doctors were good at letting me make the decision," she said, adding she has never doubted the decision.

Both women fought their cancer at St. Vincent Cancer Care, one of several hospitals in the area that provides exceptional care for individuals battling breast cancer.

Breast cancer patients at St. Vincent have access to an ongoing continuum of care led by a St. Vincent navigator who helps each patient navigate through the patient state, treatment, and survivorship phase.

Indiana University Health helps patients through diagnosis to survivorship as well. Its IU Simon Cancer Center gives patients access to all standard-treatment therapies and for those who qualify clinical trials for care options not yet available anywhere else.

Community Health Network Breast Care also takes patients from breast lump to treatment and offers a breast health navigator to help guide patients through each phase of treatment. Other hospitals like Riverview in Noblesville and St. Francis in Indianapolis offer breast cancer treatments as well.

A bit of final advice Acquisto offers, "One of the things I learned is you need to be your own best advocate. This goes all the way back to whether or not you like your doctor. If you don't, get a different doctor. Remember you're in control. This is happening to you. Surround yourself with people who are loving and supportive."

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Carrie Bishop is a freelance writer and mother of two young sons whose daily antics inspire her work and life. Contact her at freelancewritercarrie@gmail.com.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. About 2,000 men are diagnosed in the United States each year. Breast cancer patients and survivors are not alone. What's more is great organizations exist here in Central Indiana to help by lending an ear, a dime, a network, and more.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, www.komenindy.org, is the nation's largest private source of funding for breast cancer research and community outreach program. This year it has funneled $1.6 million into non-profit organizations in Central Indiana.

Young Survival Coalition, www.youngsurvival.org/centralindiana, provides connections, support and outreach to young women diagnosed with breast cancer, both during and after treatment.

I.W.I.N. (Indiana Women In Need) Foundation, www.iwinfoundation.org, acts as the neighbor next door to help Hoosier women battling breast cancer and their families with everyday needs and emotional support.

Pink Ribbon Connection, www.pinkribbonconnection.org, provides resources and services to those touched by breast cancer with a particular emphasis on improving access to support for the medically under served.

Tags: In This Issue, Health, Women's Health

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