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The pink ribbon was created and popularized by Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice-president of Estee Lauder Companies. Lauder had breast cancer in 1989 and as a result became an ardent advocate for breast cancer and raised millions to fund it.
The world wide symbol of breath health represents various meanings For some, it personifies a cancer survivor. For others, it symbolizes the fight through treatment. For me, it is a reminder of the courageous journey “my child”- my niece Justina (Tina, T-Bird, The Queen), who I love more than life-endured and survived.
I was in my home office in 2008 when I received a phone call from Justina. We chatted in familiar fashion, catching up on each other’s lives. T then she asked me if I was sitting down. Suddenly, an unfamiliar chilling silence crept through the airwaves - the calm before the storm. Had I heard Justina say those words we all fear and pray do not strike home- “breast cancer?”
The room started spinning slowly. I gasped for air and shook my head in denial. Was this a bad dream? This doesn’t happen to individuals like you. You are a pentathalete, healthy and active. We need to get a second opinion. It must be a misdiagnosis.
As the words “breast cancer” echoed in my ears and seemingly throughout the room, I slowly hung up the phone and proceeded to pound my fist against the wall. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I shouted in despair, “Why? Why her?”
I wanted to snap my fingers and take away this disease and any pain T would endure. I wanted somehow to exchange places with her and deal with this unforeseen journey. I had to be strong for Justina but I felt so helpless and desperate for answers. How were we to cope with his ugly disease? What were T’s options? Will Justina survive?
Justina was fortunate to be and continues to be surrounded by the support of her family and friends. Her husband, Chris Lambert (Lambert, Lambino) of course, is always at the forefront and constantly by her side. He is a devoted husband and as Nyah says “an awesome dah-dah.” Well, that’s Lambert’s interpretation( lol)- but we believe if Nyah could express herself in such a manner, she would agree! Nyah also loves her Mommy bunches, realizes she is pretty special, and doesn’t let her out of her sight.
In search for answers, we contacted Dr. Susan Love, a renowned breast cancer surgeon, author of "Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book" and the President of her research foundation located in California. Dr. Love provided alternative suggestions for treatment and references for oncologists. Although the lump T found was a size of a pea, the cancer was an aggressive one. Justina, at 27 years of age, elected to be aggressive too and had a bi-lateral mastectomy. Upon recommendation from her dear friend, Saunsanie Ramos Kitchko, T contacted Dr. Preya Ananthakrishnan, a well-respected breast surgeon at Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Preya performed the surgery and continues to be an advocate for Justina.
After her surgery, Tina had to make decisions unimaginable to most women her age. She and Lambert shaved their heads as a symbol of commitment to each other as they battled through her chemo treatments-driving to and from Indianapolis to Cleveland. The same drugs that could save T’s life were the ones that could kill the healthy cells and affect her ability to have children. Justina and Chris had their eggs frozen should they not be able to conceive in the future. However, on July 17, 2015, Justina and Lambert experienced a miracle- Nyah was born!
Fast forward to July 2016 with Justina at age 35 when she texts me one day and asking if I am free to talk. When I called, Tina then asks if I am sitting down in my office. I chuckle and ask “why – are you pregnant again?” “Do I need to get out a bottle of wine?” We both laugh and T says, “ not ready to go there yet.”
Then there is that deafening silence followed by those fearful words-“ breast cancer”- it came back! My body freezes, my mind is numb and all those feelings and questions from that phone call in 2008 return. How can this be happening? T was aggressive with her treatment- she had a bi-lateral mastectomy, chemo treatments, and radiation, followed by a regimen of tamoxifen.
After discovering the lump on the same side, a biopsy was taken. Tina had to have emergency surgery to remove the bleeding mass and is faced with various treatment options which will include more surgery and chemo.
At the same time, Justina, Lambert, Nyah, Franki and Toya (the 4 legged family members) moved into their new home in Pfugersville, Texas. A new baby, a new home, and a fund raising business T and Lambert operate together present multiple challenges as they struggle with all the fears and uncertainties of cancer- AGAIN!
Another unforeseeable impasse that stuck was with their health insurance. Justina and Lambert both have pre-existing conditions which forced them to purchase their insurance through the marketplace. When they contacted medical facilities like MD Anderson, they learned that the insurance was limiting in regard to where Tina could go for treatments.
We turned again to Dr. Susan Love for advice and recommendations. Although Dr. Love had recently undergone hip surgery, she invested time in reviewing T’s medical history and most recent biopsies. Through Dr. Love’s colleagues and their connections, Justina located an oncologist 20 minutes from their home who accepted United Health Care. We are truly grateful for amazing individuals like Dr. Love-It is through her research foundation that we are able to save lives!
Now the long journey begins. More testing, surgery, hospital visits, chemo, and drug therapy. Justina is all too familiar with this battle. However, significant strides have been made over the last ten years. Survival rates have significantly improved due to the attention dedicated to breast cancer research.
Justina and her family need your prayers, your support and your encouragement! T is always there for us, it is now our time to be there for her, Lambert, Nyah, Franki and Toya,
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