The Other Side of Breast Cancer | The cost, the stress & those around you

The Other Side of Breast Cancer | The cost, the stress & those around you

PHOTOGRAPHY: AYSE CHRISTO | HAIR & MAKEUP: GLOW STUDIOS, ASHBURN KRISTEN SHEHADI

By: Aimee Taylor

WE ARE ALL TOLD TO PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES AND WHERE WE CAN, MANY OF US DO. BUT FEW OF US CAN BE COMPLETELY PREPARED EMOTIONALLY OR FINANCIALLY FOR A LIFE-ALTERING DIAGNOSIS LIKE BREAST CANCER.

Initially, a breast cancer diagnosis tends to focus one’s thoughts on the physical effects of the disease. But after the shock subsides, what soon sets in is a new reality which includes a whole range of emotional, practical and financial
challenges.

The exact costs of breast cancer are difficult to pin down as treatment plans vary widely by type and stage of cancer. A 2011 study by the Duke University Medical Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute estimated out of pocket  expenses to be over $700 per month for a cancer patient, even though most in this study were covered by insurance. Some estimates are even higher. While co-pays and medication add up, one must also factor other items such as lost wages, transportation costs and extra childcare, adding to the strain during an already stressful time.

Angela Fuentes, Karen Puleo, Destinae Nacin

“There are so many challenges faced by patients during breast cancer treatment,” explains Ashley Campolattaro, co-executive director of Ashburnbased charity, The Step Sisters. “While a woman’s entire life is turned upside down, she can’t press pause. Work, family and care of the house never stop.” The Step Sisters assist Northern Virginia breast cancer patients by providing vital support services during treatment.

Posh Seven spoke to three local breast cancer survivors to understand how each faced their own unique set of challenges.

ANGELA FUENTES

ANGELA
ANGELA FUENTES WAS DIAGNOSED IN 2008. WHILE THE DIAGNOSIS ITSELF WAS A SHOCK, SHE WAS TAKEN ABACK BY THE AMOUNT OF DOCTOR VISITS REQUIRED BEFORE TREATMENT EVEN BEGAN. THE COMPLEXITY OF TREATMENT OPTIONS MEANT MANY STRESSFUL DECISIONS NEEDED TO BE QUICKLY MADE. AT THE TIME, SHE WAS ABLE TO STOP HER PART-TIME JOB, ALLOWING HER TO FOCUS ON HER TWO YOUNG CHILDREN.

KAREN PULEO

KAREN
KAREN PULEO WAS DIAGNOSED IN 2009, HAD A PARTIAL MASTECTOMY AND THREE WEEKS OF RADIATION. WITH A DEMANDING JOB AS HEAD OF HUMAN RESOURCES AS WELL AS BEING THE SOLE EARNER AT HOME, KAREN COULDN’T AFFORD TO TAKE THE TIME OFF FOR TREATMENT AND SHORT-TERM DISABILITY SIMPLY DID NOT PROVIDE ENOUGH. INSTEAD, SHE DID RADIATION TREATMENTS EVERY MORNING BEFORE SHE WENT TO WORK AND BOOKED HER SURGERY AS VACATION TIME.

DESTINAE NACIN

DESTINAE
DESTINAE NACIN RECEIVED HER DIAGNOSIS IN EARLY 2016 AFTER BEING MARRIED ONLY FOUR MONTHS. LIKE ANGELA, SHE WAS SHOCKED BY THE NUMBER OF TESTS, DOCTOR VISITS AND PREPARATIONS REQUIRED. ONCE TREATMENT BEGAN, SHE WAS DRAINED BY THE HIGH NUMBER OF APPOINTMENTS, BUT LIKE KAREN, WAS ABLE TO WORK THROUGH HER DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT, THANKS TO AN ACCOMMODATING EMPLOYER AND CO-WORKERS.

Multiple medical appointments meant extra transportation costs for both her and her husband. The couple also faced the added expense of egg extraction to assist with future fertility treatments.

Added Stress
While finances are almost always an issue during major medical treatment, our three survivors faced stress in a variety of areas. As Karen explains, “I did not want to lose my job and thankfully missed very little time away from work.” But after morning treatments, followed by busy days at the office, she found she did not have the energy for routine tasks such as laundry and cleaning the house.

Destinae states that the impact on those around her was a major concern during her treatment. She adds, “I definitely think that as women, we always worry about others much more than ourselves. This was extremely stressful as I didn’t want to worry anyone, especially my husband – we had just been married such a short time.”

Angela worried about her husband and children during her treatment. Her boys were both young and she wanted to shield them from issues that were difficult for them to understand – such as losing her hair and not being able to pick them up.

Ashley echoes these worries as she reflects on her own mother’s diagnosis in 2006. “My mom lived alone and at the time, I had three young children and lived in another state. I knew she needed a lot of support around the house so she could focus on her treatment. Thankfully, she received it.”

Making it Work
Each woman featured here faced a life-altering diagnosis. Thankfully, they also had the help they needed during a stressful time.

For Angela, she received many meals from friends but one of the most memorable things was a friend mowing her lawn as this helped her husband out. She explains, “Family members are affected by the disease almost as much as the patient. While my husband was taking care of me, someone reached out to help him – that meant a lot.” After Angela’s treatment, she teamed up with Ashley to focus The Step Sisters on providing local women with a lot of these same practical support services. The two now share the role of co-executive directors of the group.

For Karen, it was a close friend that came to her appointments, taking notes and asking questions – a huge help when things felt overwhelming. Other friends made meals and stocked her freezer and took care of her yard work. Her parents drove her to and from work until she was cleared to drive, and helped around the house. A great employer understood when she needed to miss work.

Destinae received cards and care packages to keep her positive during 6-hour chemo treatments. In addition, a huge support system of family and friends raised money through a GoFundMe page to help out.

Our three local survivors have incredible stories and valuable advice for others. But like Ashley, they also realize that some Northern Virginia women are not as fortunate. They lack a support network, understanding employers or stable finances. So when a diagnosis hits, they face agonizing choices such as paying for medication or paying for rent. They may skip appointments to keep their job or to save up.

Each woman featured here has an inspiring story, but they have also used their trials to help others. Having been through the disease, they understand firsthand what someone in the same situation needs. With all four women now active members of The Step Sisters, they work to ensure that local women have the support, financial or practical that they need in facing their own diagnosis.

PHOTOGRAPHY: AYSE CHRISTO | HAIR & MAKEUP: GLOW STUDIOS, ASHBURN KRISTEN SHEHADI

Written by
AIMEE TAYLOR owns Market Alignment, a Loudounbased marketing and public relations firm. She lives in Ashburn with her husband and two daughters