In 1999, after giving birth to her daughter, Teri Pollastro felt a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following a mastectomy, she was told that she was “cured.” A few years later, her cancer had spread beyond the breast to her liver. Her cancer was now metastatic or stage IV.
Teri describes the difficulty of receiving the information for the first time and trying to process her feelings of shock and fear. “I had this out-of-body experience where I felt like I was up above just watching her (my doctor) talk…but I was not there.”
A wife and mother, Teri had to find the strength to manage her own feelings with her metastatic breast cancer (mBC) diagnosis to be there for her family, particularly her young daughters. She knew that her 7-year old ‘had inklings that something was going on’ with all the whispered conversations between her and her husband. Working with a counselor, Teri found the strength to be up front about her cancer and take action.
Teri remembers the moment she told her youngest daughter during her nightly bath time. “I told Maddie…I have this cancer, and I don’t know how I’m going to respond to the medicine, but I might get sick, and I might lose my hair and those types of things. And she said to me, ‘are you going to die?’ And I said, right now, I’m not. And she said, ok. She plugged her nose and went into the tub.” Years later, Maddie still remembers that important conversation where she submerged underwater for a moment to scream silently before coming back up for air. She knew her life had changed, but as long as her mother was transparent, she would be prepared for whatever came her way.
While in the throes of treatment, Teri recalls people would run from her because they didn’t know what to say. As a young mother with mBC, she felt isolated and alone. She didn’t know a lot of people in her shoes. She decided not to hide from her diagnosis and live in the shadows, but instead speak up, go to conferences and take charge. Teri remembers thinking, “This is my life. I need to take control of it.”
Teri became the ultimate advocate, speaking up for herself and for others who hadn’t found their voice yet. Even today, she meets with those newly diagnosed and encourages them to ask for help with things like follow up appointments, hotel bookings and financial or psychological needs. Whenever possible, Teri refers people to social workers who, she notes, often have the resources to uniquely help people navigate the many different facets of fighting cancer.
Teri’s passion passed on to her daughter, Maddie, who continues her mother’s fight today as a clinical researcher focused on breast cancer research. More than 20 years since her initial breast cancer diagnosis, Teri advocates strongly for you to know as much as possible about your cancer and not be afraid to ask questions to your doctor.
The Find Your MBC Voice program is designed to provide information on treatment options available for mBC as well as the tools and resources to have more informed conversations with doctors.
To hear more from Teri and other inspirational voices, listen to Find Your MBC Voice Radio, sponsored by Pfizer.
For more information, please visit FindYourMBCVoice.com.