Amber Marchese has survived a lot – after learning she has breast cancer for a second time, Amber is undergoing an aggressive, yet cutting-edge treatment plan to hopefully eradicate the disease once and for all – and she’s turning to her Catholic faith to guide her.
Recounting how she discovered her disease had returned and the immediate fear that set-in, Amber has put her trust in God to keep her spirits up and her hopes high. When Amber discovered her cancer had returned she had been less attentive to her faith, due to her “amazing” life and happy life.
“Although the words came out of my mouth that I am a Catholic, I did not have God in my life as much as I should have. I knew in my heart I had wandered from my path, even despite my first bout with breast cancer and feeling God’s miracle once before,” Amber admits. “My mind was wandering around too much, looking for instant gratifications and becoming more and more selfish.” Why do I feel like joining Real Housewives Of New Jersey has that affect on people?
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Finding a lump on Good Friday was a sign to Amber that faith was calling her back. “Needless to say, I began praying again. A lot,” she writes in her People blog.
Other setbacks reaffirmed Amber’s need to rely on faith. “I was scheduled to take my scans, but oddly enough there was a miscommunication with the radiology center, my insurance and oncologist office that caused them to reschedule. I was initially furious!” she recounts. “This was so urgent in my life. How could anyone screw up enough to have to reschedule my exams for another week away? I calmed myself, made another appointment and then put it out of my mind. I later realized the center made the new appointment on ‘The day of the Lord’s Accession,’ again a very Holy day in the Catholic faith. I went to my scans in the morning and then took my family to mass that evening.”
Amber adds that the prayers and blessings from RHONJ fans also helped give strength and to remind her that God is present in her life. “I realized how much love and faith truly exist in this world,” she cheers. “Now, I am hearing you, Lord, loud and clear.”
The morning Amber received the results of her lumpectomy from her new oncologist “Dr. N,” she and Jim Marchese kept their spirits up by cracking jokes, but she was clinging to prayer to keep her centered.
“As I drove to his office I thought back to what happened and how the last few weeks had transpired. Over the last few weeks, some days I was wracked with fear, others I glided through with no issues, almost as if my diagnosis was just an episode on TV,” Amber shares. “Seriously, this is not my reality.”
Amber was experiencing chest pains, so even when she learned that her scans were all clear she was unsurprised to hear that the MRI detected “10 percent DCIS (early stage invasive carcinoma but contained within the ductal cells), and the rest was triple positive. In simple terms, the cancer cells feed on hormones.”
Amber would begin hormone therapy – another round of progesterone and HER-2, and would require an additional surgery “to get the ‘wide margins'” to ensure that no lingering cancer cells travel outside the tumor “which was encapsulated.” Amber’s oncologist explained deemed the outlook a “best-case scenario.” Despite her positive outlook, Amber broke down in tears.
“I tried to keep my emotions at bay with a joyful smile on my face no matter what; however, it is so difficult sometimes. Despite trying to keep the tears back, the tears started up,” writes Amber. “I ask Dr. N, ‘How did this happen and why? Am I going to be fighting this for rest of my life?’ I reminded him that I had a double mastectomy and that I should not have any breast left. He looked into my eyes and did something unusual: he hopped up on the exam chair and began explaining my case in great detail – he actually grabbed a pad and began to draw and explain how it happened and possibly why.”
Amber learned her initial diagnosis was actually comprised of two tumors, which were both “triple positive” and contained the same characteristics of the tumor they just removed. Amber explains, “The recurrence was only 3 mm. and located at eight o’clock. This meant the recurrence was approximately halfway between the two original tumors. Interestingly, 5 to 10 percent of women with mastectomy have a recurrence, regardless of whether they have a lumpectomy (removing only a small portion of breast tissue) or the surgery I underwent – a skin sparring bilateral mastectomy (removing both breast and the nipples). If I had my original diagnosis today, my surgery would have been much less invasive. I would have opted for a nipple sparring mastectomy despite almost similar chances of a recurrence as a lumpectomy.”
Amber doesn’t regret her decision to undergo the double mastectomy for a variety of reasons 1) symmetry of breast when reconstructing, 2) she would still maintain sensation and 3) “If I had a recurrence after a mastectomy, the lump would present itself in a region that is more easily palpable – meaning the little bastard is not going to play hide and seek on me in very dense breast tissue.”
Amber learned that this new tumor could have been “residual disease,” or left over cells from the original tumor, or it could be a new “primary” mass. “I did not know that all women have breast cells from their clavicle (collar bone) to the bottom of their rib cage, extending around to our backs. Ugghhh … was God kidding me?!” Amber laments. “Women have breast cells that intermingle with their skin cells and their fat cells. In short, if you remove your breast, there is never a way of removing all breast cells. If the remaining breast cells are diseased, that surgery will not prevent a recurrence. Dr. N confirmed what my breast surgeon, Dr. Kearney, told me: We would need to remove more tissue to ensure there were no lingering cells.”
As a result of the meeting Amber learned her oncologist, and a team of experts who reviewed her case, recommended a new revolutionary treatment plan carried out at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ) which is a frontrunner in innovative ways of treating the disease.
Amber shares that she will get her new treatment plan next week and offers advice to all of us going through the same process: make sure your doctor talks to you and is thorough!
Amber also shares three important tips:
Advice 1: New research suggests that mastectomy is not superior to a lumpectomy. Breast-conserving surgery may be the better option. In my case, I could have had breast sparring and kept my nipples. Mastectomy is a big surgery, and it is painful. Do not make the decision lightly or without at least a second opinion.
Advice 2: NCI centers receive grants from the federal government and provide data and research essential to finding a cure for cancer. Unfortunately, their funding is being cut, grinding research to a halt. More support for these programs to understand this disease and to establish a “standard of care” is essential.
Advice 3: If your oncologist is not willing to sit with you and answer all of your questions, find another oncologist. It is your life, and you need to be educated.
Well, Amber has quite the journey ahead of her. It’s amazing that she’s able to keep her spirits up and not let cancer overtake her life! And frankly, this is some really solid advice! I wonder if Amber will continue to share her story on RHONJ?
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[Photo Credit: WENN]