● By Robert Frey
Julie Bourque, Natalie Miguez And Beth Marino Resweber
By Shanna P. Dickens
While recounting their own personal stories of breast cancer, there is one word that each of these survivors mentioned countless times – blessed. Each of these women truly believes that they were blessed throughout every step of their journey. Natalie Miguez, Beth Marino Resweber and Julie Bourque each had breast cancer, and they all chose to undergo double mastectomies. In many cases, that’s where their similarities end. These women prove how different each diagnosis can be, how varied treatment options are and how much hope and light there is along the way to recovery. The one thing these women all have in common is that they found their cancers early by being diligent about breast self-exams and routine mammograms, habits they all started at a young age and consistently maintained. Early detection saved their lives, and now they’re making it their mission to save others.
Beth Marino Resweber has no family history of breast cancer, but because she has fibrocystic breasts, she’s been getting mammograms since she was 35. In December of 2015, during a routine mammogram, they found a small tumor in the duct of her left breast, invasive ductal carcinoma.
“It was stage one, so they recommended a lumpectomy,” she recalls. “ But my husband’s first wife had passed away as a result of breast cancer, so I decided to do a double mastectomy. The tumor was removed. Nothing had spread and nothing had metastasized and there was nothing in my lymph nodes. I was on a wonderful path.”
After her mastectomy, Beth elected to have a test done called the MammaPrint® 70-Gene Brest Cancer Recurrence Assay. This examines the tumor tissue and allows doctors and patients to know if it is an aggressive type of cancer or one that will reoccur. Beth’s tumor came back in the high-risk category. They recommended that she do chemotherapy as a preventative measure, and she jumped on the opportunity.
“Even though I had the insurance of a double mastectomy, they recommended chemo and I knew immediately that I would do it,” she explains. “ I knew that I would lose my hair and go through some type of grueling chemotherapy treatment, but I had to do what was best in the long run for me and my family. Everything I did was preventative. I opted for the long route.”
When diagnosed, Beth reacted from a place of worry…worry for her husband that he would lose two wives to breast cancer and worry for her son who was only 6 years old at the time. Beth explains that she was never scared; what she was was angry.
“I was mad,” she confesses of her diagnosis. “I was frustrated and thought that it was a setback I didn’t need. The most difficult part for me was that I wanted to be sure my family was happy. I also really struggled with the way that people would look at me with pity. I wanted people to look at me like the Beth I had always been.”
Beth did short-term chemotherapy, four rounds in three months. She lost her hair after eight days (which her son loved). Beth considers herself lucky, because she didn’t experience the physical aliments often associated with chemo, like extreme nausea. However, she struggled with neuropathy and exhaustion. Through it all, Beth stayed busy and positive. She admits that it was only when she had completed chemo and was on the road to recovery that she began to truly become overwhelmed by all that she had been through.
“When I was finished with chemo and all of my surgeries, I couldn’t believe I had gone through it,” she admits. “It’s something I didn’t want to look back on, but there was this part of me that felt like I wanted to help others with their own diagnosis. “
Beth became active in the Acadiana Affiliate of Susan G. Komen. The local affiliate keeps any of the grants received or funds raised within the Acadiana community. In March of 2017, Beth was selected as their Survivor of the Year and served as the Grand Marshall in the Race for the Cure. Recently, she was slated as the Acadiana Affiliate of Susan G. Komen Board President.
“It’s just nice to know that you can help someone along in the process of their diagnosis or recovery,” she says. “I’m such a huge advocate for early detection. I feel like I can help a lot of women with an early diagnosis. Get your mammograms, no matter how old you are, and know your symptoms.”
On August 11, 2016, Natalie Miguez, who has faithfully done breast self-examinations monthly since she was 18, felt something in her left breast. The next day, the 2016 August flood trapped Natalie in her home for two days with nothing to do except worry. As soon as the water receded, she raced to her gynecologist’s office. Following an ultrasound, a mammogram and a biopsy, Natalie received the news.
“It was stage three,” she says emotionally. “I chose to do a double mastectomy. The chances of it returning were too high for me. I didn’t want to take the chance.”
Natalie was immediately submitted by the Breast Center of Acadiana into a support group called the Pink Ribbon Divas. The group meets once a month and communicates through Facebook daily. Natalie contributes so much of the success of her journey to these women. But they weren’t the only ones in her corner…far from it. She had the unyielding support of her family, church family, friends, coworkers from DigiTech and, in some cases, complete strangers.
“Deciding to share my diagnosis with everyone was difficult at first,” she confesses. “But I needed the power of prayer. My pastor and my church walked along with us throughout all of this. Once I went public, I went into full advocacy mode. I wanted to raise awareness for self breast exams.”
And with that decision, Natalie painted her entire life pink and raised an advocacy flag that she doesn’t intend to put down. Natalie wasn’t the only one who needed support during this time. It was most difficult for her watching her family process the news. Especially her daughter who is in the military and was stationed in Germany for the majority of her treatment.
Natalie received chemotherapy for 12 weeks before getting a 30-day break and returning to complete a final eight weeks. While she only missed nine days of work, she admits that there were times, usually at night, when she was overwhelmed by what she was going through.
“I started losing my hair on Christmas Eve morning,” she recalls. “My husband is a hairdresser, and he looked at me and said ‘You ready?’ So we shaved it. I wore a scarf that day because my nieces and nephews were around and I didn’t want to scare them. But I was so uncomfortable and finally my sister said ‘You’re going to rock it!’ I took the scarf off, and the kids loved it! When my hair grew back it came in white, and I loved it so much that now we bleach it!”
Natalie recently had her four-month scans and they all returned with excellent results. She takes a five-year oral form of chemo that yields very minimal side effects. With everything she’s been through and her life turned to advocacy, it’s the positive changes in her life that Natalie chooses to focus on.
“I’m different now,” she says boldly. “It’s been like a rebirth. I grew spiritually. All of the relationships in my life are better. And I know it’s crazy to say, but I feel healthier.”
Cancer is very prevalent in Julie Bourque’s family history. Because of this, she’s always been incredibly diligent about her screenings, especially mammograms, which she started in her late 30s. Last year, after her annual mammogram she got a call from her doctor saying she needed to come back for an ultrasound, followed by a biopsy. Julie was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma that was approaching stage one.
“It was still OK, even after I knew it was breast cancer, because I don’t fear it,” Julie says matter of factly. “I knew without a doubt that God would take care of me.”
As it is for most, telling her family was the hardest part for Julie. She explains that they all had their reactions, but kept it together for her and rallied around her with love and support. Julie’s cancer was caught so early that she didn’t even have a lump. It was described to her as “granules.” Having seen so many members of her family go through treatments and wanting to remove her risk of reoccurrence entirely, Julie opted to have a double mastectomy instead of chemotherapy or radiation therapies.
“My scars are a reminder that I’ve been spared from a battle that a lot of people lose,” she says candidly. “I had almost a whole year after my mastectomy to look at myself with just flesh and scars, and that was amazing. As long as I can see my scars, that’s a reminder to be thankful.”
Even with a strong family history, cancer was never something that Julie feared, even when it came to her own, as she explains, “I respect it.” It’s difficult comprehending someone keeping such an unfaltering level of positivity throughout a cancer diagnosis, but Julie truly did. In fact, the most difficult part of the journey for her was viewing herself as a breast cancer survivor.
“It took me a very long time to consider myself a breast cancer survivor,” she admits. “I didn’t have to undergo treatment like so many women do. I didn’t feel like I deserved the name ‘survivor.’ I was just doing what would allow me to be there for my husband and my daughters, and if that meant removing my breast, that was fine with me.”
Julie is finally coming to terms with the fact that just because it didn’t look like someone else’s, her battle was no less of a battle. When this article comes out, many people who know Julie will be learning for the first time that she had cancer. She now feels as if it’s her duty to advocate for early detection. Julie’s mammogram was a year to the day of her previous one, which was completely clear. She believes that what she went through was an opportunity for others.
“My faith got me through every step,” she professes. “I was shocked when I found out, but I knew God had my back no matter what way this went. He uses all things for good, and he’s using me now through this. He gave me an opportunity and now it’s my duty to share my story with others.”