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Breast cancer survivor stories: ‘I made sure not to Google too much’

Editor’s note: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Chicago Sun-Times invited breast cancer survivors to share their stories. We’ll share these first-person accounts throughout the month.

It all started in the emergency room in July 2013. My right breast was feeling very painful. At that time, I was in limbo with my Medicaid and regular primary care doctors wouldn’t take me. I decided to go to Advocate Trinity Hospital’s Emergency Room because the pain was getting too much to handle. I explained my situation and they examined me.

I was wondering if I had a lump on my breast. When the doctor came back, he told me it wasn’t a lump, but a mass. I needed an ultrasound and mammography right away and went to Dr. Ari Mintz at Trinity. After four biopsies, they discovered I had stage 2 cancer and would have to have mastectomy surgery right away and do chemotherapy right after.

It was scary hearing that, and I was just in shock. I kept thinking one single piece of news can change your life overnight. Then when I started chemotherapy, it went to another level. My fingernails came off, my hair came off and I just had an uneasy feeling. Things were rough but they got better. Chemo made me a little tired, but prayer, my husband, William, and my daughter, Joanna, got me through it.

I go to Trinity’s Infusion Center in Chicago every three weeks since September 2013. It helps that when you go there because you can talk to other survivors, and the people greet you with a smile.

When you celebrate your one-year anniversary, it brings you such a wonderful feeling. My brother died right after I had the surgery for my mass, so having support in so many unexpected ways really made a difference. My advice to people if they are going through this is just be honest. You have to be honest with the doctors about how you are feeling and you have to be honest with your family and friends. Also, I made sure not to Google too much. When you have a situation when you are getting too much information, that can drive you crazy. You don’t want to be hysterical because it can be easy to get there.

JoAnn Piphus, 58, Chicago