Breast Cancer Warrior
By Carol Radin | By Marita Hughes
When Anne Snowdon started treatment for breast cancer, she decided to be like a phoenix, the mythical bird that dies and is reborn. A nurse by profession, Anne based her prediction not only on her medical care, but also her own resourcefulness and a deep connection to her faith, family and colleagues.
Anne was 40 when she was diagnosed with cancer after reporting an oddly persistent pain in her breast at a routine wellness exam. Fortunately, her routine mammogram had been scheduled for the same day. Unfortunately, the radiologist took one look at the films and told Anne to go right back to her doctor.
A subsequent biopsy revealed stage 2 invasive ductal triple-negative breast cancer. It was already so invasive that Anne had a lumpectomy within two weeks of that initial checkup. The surgeon found 26 suspicious lymph nodes and, because some suspicious areas remained, Anne started a standard nine-month chemotherapy series.
At the end of the treatment, Anne and her family booked a cruise to celebrate. But before they embarked on the trip, Anne found another lump. The cancer had returned.
Over the next year, Anne endured the return of the cancer not only that second time, but also a third time, when she developed a painful rash on her back which proved to be cancer spreading to her skin. With a total of 19 months of radiation and chemotherapy regimens, it was a rough time physically and emotionally. Yet Anne persisted.
“I’m a warrior,” she said. “You have to shore yourself up for battle.”
While in the fray, Anne gained a deeper understanding of herself and her needs, as well the needs of others struggling with cancer. As a registered nurse, she knows a strong medical team is paramount, and she’s grateful for the team she had.
She was a part of that team, too. Although Anne had the advantage of knowing medical terminology and which questions to ask, she also did online research. She urges all cancer patients to do the same.
“You have to advocate for yourself,” she said.
Anne stressed to practice caution during online research, though.
“Don’t spend too much time on the internet,” she suggested. “You’re going to read all the bad stories. In life, there can be good stories.”
Websites she found particularly helpful were Never Surrender (no-surrender.org) and, specific to her illness, the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation (tnbcfoundation.org).
She sought out alternative therapy strategies — like nutritional therapy, spiritual therapy and Reiki for emotional balance — which, after consultation with her doctor, she was able to use as supplements to her medical treatment.
“You have to come outside the box a little bit,” she said.
It’s important to “find your people,” Anne said. During treatment, she intentionally surrounded herself with positive people and still does. Her husband, sons, father, friends and even memory of her late mother’s staunch spirit gave her the will to persist. Her father helped immeasurably when he stepped in help care for her sons, ages 2 and 11, when Anne was diagnosed.
Anne also values her colleagues at Upstate Medical University, where she continued working throughout her 19 months of treatment. Far from wearing her out, she found support from her colleagues and her own daily focus on other people’s needs.
Anne’s inner spring of spiritual faith, which deepened as she struggled, helped her, as well.
“I think that’s why I’m sitting here today,” she said. “It’s more than faith. I know there’s a power.”
Anne was recently faced with another heartbreaking ordeal. Her 2-year-old granddaughter, Rosie, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer.
“She is a warrior, too,” Anne said. “I cope with her fight as much as I did my own.”
Reliving her own experience, Anne knows that “a great medical team at Golisano, educating [herself] and [Rosie’s] parents and essentially fighting as a team” will help her granddaughter, she said.
Anne’s also received support from the many friends, family, coworkers and Baldwinsville community where Rosie lives.
“They have given us courage and strength,” Anne said. SWM