Surviving Breast Cancer
Angela Izzo's story is inspiring ' born deaf, she is now triumphing over breast cancer and looking for ways to let women know that even young women need to be vigilant about breast cancer detection. Her own cancer was diagnosed when she was 33.
Angela Izzo is a woman on a
mission. One year after treatment for breast cancer and
months past a scare that the cancer had returned, the
Milford, CT resident has been energized to let young
women know that they are not immune to the disease.
"Ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer all I
wanted to do was help women, especially those who are
deaf, to be aware that they have to take control of
their own bodies."
Angela knows all too well how important it is to take the helm when it comes to her own health. Born deaf, she has worked as an Independent Living Skills Specialist at Family Services in Bridgeport working in Deaf Outreach Services. "I did case management work, parenting skills, budget training skills, tutoring, and independent living skills training as well... I also made sure that my clients had all the communication access they have a right to have, including interpreters for their appointments with professionals like doctors and lawyers...I loved fighting for their rights. I love making 'noises'."
Her latest "noise" is about getting women, especially deaf women, to be tuned in to changes in their bodies. "Don't listen to anyone but yourself," says Angela. "You are the one who knows your own body the best. I'm encouraging women to get their mammograms before age 40. I know that breast cancer can sneak up unexpectedly so it's important for women to know their bodies."
This advice comes from experience, something she wants to share with other women. Here's how she describes her ordeal: "I was watching television one night when I discovered a lump. I decided to go to a doctor to have it checked because I knew it was not a part of me. I was diagnosed with first stage invasive breast cancer. I am sure glad I went right away because I was able to catch the cancer in time. I was very fortunate it did not spread to my lymph nodes or any organs in my body. With my family's suggestion I went to the Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital for my treatments. I went through sixteen weeks of chemotherapy, which was pure hell, but I survived! I then went through thirty-three rounds of radiation."
She is regaining her strength and putting herself back on the road of life. That road recently took a frightening turn after the diagnosis when a routine mammogram appeared to show an abnormal area on the same side as the cancer. "My world stopped! I thought the cancer was back! I could not function - I could not sleep... I was nervous wreck," she recalls.
David Gruen, M.D., who performed the biopsy at Norwalk Radiology describes that day: "Naturally, we knew of Angela's personal history when we did the mammogram. What we saw made us schedule a needle biopsy as quickly as possible. Any biopsy is stressful for the patient because we only do them when we've seen a problem area through mammograms or MRIs. Angela's was particularly stressful for all of us, because of how young she was when she was diagnosed. We were all moved by her age, her deafness and her pre-existing diagnosis. The biopsy was even more challenging because of her deafness.
"We were unable to use the usual things
that help put patients at ease like playing soft music
and engaging them in light conversation. We sensed the
gravity of what was going on and everyone took it to
heart. Fortunately, she brought an interpreter, Bridget
McBride, who was one of three interpreters who had
assisted during her initial cancer treatment. She was
particularly critical in helping us work with Angela. We
could ask her to ask Angela if she were in pain. At one
point Angela got very tearful. We weren't sure if she
was in pain, or being scared of what was going on or
emotional because of the situation. Thank goodness for
"Without my interpreters I would never have survived! I could not ask my family members to interpret for me because I knew it was difficult and too much on them. They had to deal with the fact that I had cancer. Why put another burden on them?" recalls Angela.
In the end, the news was good. The fibrous tumor found by the MRI was benign. But the scare deeply affected Angela. "I kept praying that I would be okay... I did not want to go through the chemotherapy again... I always knew deep in my heart that I will beat the cancer... but the thought of getting sick after chemotherapy makes my stomach turn upside down. It was pretty scary... but yet I am lucky that we live in a high technology world and they were able to perform this procedure. . Now, I'm more convinced than ever that I need to spread the message to all women."
To dramatize the need to get the message
out, she put together a team that participated in
October's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in
Today, Angela looks to the future with optimism. She even hopes to have children one day. "I had an ovarian transplant at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York before I started my chemotherapy. I was told that chemo could harm my ovaries so I decided to have the transplant in hopes of having children someday." She is only the fifth person in the world to do this.
She credits determination and a supportive family for helping her through this journey. "I could not have survived through this whole ordeal without the love and support from my friends and family from near and far... I thank everyone from the bottom of my heart."
In some ways, she sees the cancer as having enriched her life. "I have to admit that this experience has made me a stronger person," says Angela. "I want to use that strength to make sure all women know not to be so afraid cancer that they ignore what their bodies are telling them or put off mammograms. We women can beat this horrible disease with the wonders of today's medicine, but no one can get help unless they take the first step. I plan to make so much noise about this that every woman gets the message."
To learn more about early breast cancer detection, visit Norwalk Radiology's site: www.norwalkradiology.com .