Left to right - Ilya Kovalchuk, Zack Parise, Karen Rein, and Patrik Elias. Special thanks to the NJ Devils and MSG Network.
© 2012 Mark Jason Photography
Breast cancer survivor since 2011
Owner of Rein Teen Tours
What does being a Survivor mean to you?
The way I feel about being a survivor is shaped entirely by how I was diagnosed. I am a breast cancer survivor for one reason only — early mammogram detection. At 36, my GYN suggested I get an early baseline mammogram, simply to get healthy results to keep on file for future comparative purposes. So, I went for my first mammogram, expecting that I’d walk away with a few funny stories to share with my friends about my first mammogram experience. Instead, I walked away with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Prior to my diagnosis, I had always thought of breast cancer as a disease that affects women far older than myself. I have no immediate family history of breast cancer, and I had no detectable lumps at the time of my diagnosis. Had I waited until 40 to have my first mammogram, there is no doubt in my mind that, by the time my cancer was found, I would have been fighting for my life. But because of my early detection, I am now cancer-free, recovering well and feeling extremely happy and grateful. Being a proud breast cancer survivor under 40 means I have the unique privilege of sharing my story of early mammogram detection with as many people as possible. As these people then share my story with their friends and family, awareness will be raised and hopefully more young lives can be saved. It's ingrained in women from the time we are young girls, that we should get our first mammogram at 40. I'm certainly living proof, and the quintessential poster child for early mammogram detection. Thirty-five is the new 40!!
How has being a Survivor affected your life?
I am now so grateful for every single day of my life. The lens through which I see and live my life is now bigger and wider. There are moments, nearly every day, when something remarkable (big or small) or beautiful catches my attention. I tear up because I am so grateful that I am healthy and here. I am only a 13-month survivor, but I know that 30 years from now, I will still wake up every day thankful for all that I have. I have so much still to do in my life — so many opportunities to experience, places in the world to see, and limitless ways to give back to others. From the moment of my diagnosis, I felt an obligation to be open and honest in sharing my story with others, particularly my peers, who are not of the mindset that breast cancer can strike young women our age.
Bilateral mastectomy was, of course, not the direction that I saw my life taking at 36 years old. But I believe it is so important to share even this part of my journey, in order to add my face and story to the battle against this insidious disease. Even though I am just one person, the more involved I become in the role of helping to raise awareness — both at an organizational level and in just speaking with friends, family and acquaintances — I know other lives will be saved, and funds will continue to be raised towards education, detection, treatment, research and the CURES. Although I have had to make sacrifices that I never expected to make so young in my life because of breast cancer, I am a very proud survivor and so glad to be able to share my story.
The photo: I chose to be photographed with the New Jersey Devils to show some of the world’s most elite hockey players and athletes standing united with me in the fight against breast cancer and in support of finding the cures.
I am a huge New Jersey Devils fan. My family has had season tickets since I was a kid and, to this day, my husband and I still have season tickets and go to every single game. I’m a familiar face in my section, cheering for the Devils, booing bad calls and high-fiving the people next to me when we score. Just two weeks after my bilateral mastectomy, when I was still in tremendous pain from surgery and could barely get off the couch, I pushed myself to go to the Devils/Penguins game on March 4, 2011. Even though I hardly felt like being out in public, I knew it was important to get back to my old life by going to the game. Sitting in the stands and cheering for the Devils that night reminded me that I am still my old self, only stronger and better. The Devils won that night, and so did I. The Devils organization supports many worthwhile causes during the hockey season, including the fight against breast cancer. Because all of the Devils players are young and such a large part of their fan base is so young, I wanted to partner with the players for the photo, in order to help raise awareness of the importance of early detection and screening for breast cancer.