Anca Sima, Public Works employee, is a breast cancer survivor. Her story is one of the importance of early detection, self-advocacy, and keeping a positive attitude.
It started with being diagnosed with lymphoma in November, 2013. Anca was scheduled to have PET scans every three months to monitor this. She asked her primary physician whether it would also be necessary to have her annual mammogram in lieu of the PET scans. Her physician said a mammogram would still be necessary – and, by the way – she had missed one the previous year. Anca was surprised to hear that as she always made it a point to do this yearly. She was scheduled and the results came back abnormal. A CT and then biopsy of two areas in one breast was performed. The biopsy showed cancer. Her doctor recommended a double mastectomy. Anca was shocked. The cancer was found in only one breast. Her doctor explained though that because of her dense breasts, tumors are harder to detect and a double mastectomy would reduce the risk of missing a tumor in the remaining breast. The surgeon, however, recommended the cancerous breast only be removed. With two conflicting recommendations, it was up to Anca to decide.
To help make an informed decision, she began researching the connection between lymphoma and breast cancer. She found one study from 2008 linking lymphoma not only to breast cancer but also ovarian and thyroid cancer. She brought this information to her hematologist who wasn’t aware of this study. She spoke with another physician who had worked at a cancer center who said she wasn’t surprised to hear this. She recommended that Anca have both breasts and ovaries removed and Anca agreed with this.
There was a problem going forward with surgery though as this study had not been published so was not accepted. It took Anca’s insistence that these procedures be done. She was finally able to convince her doctor that her past history alone with abnormal Pap smears warranted the removal of her ovaries (oophorectomy). The double mastectomy and oophorectomy were scheduled.
The surgery lasted 7.5 hours. In two days, she was discharged from the hospital. Within two weeks, she had returned to work though her recovery time had been expected to be six weeks. She attributed her fast recovery to her fitness – she has been a Yoga instructor for many years. Also, she wanted to feel normal and do normal activities again.
Anca received another blow though when 10 days after surgery, she was told that cancer had been found in the “normal” breast tissue. It was diagnosed as Her 2 positive – a very aggressive cancer cell that can spread to the brain and stomach quickly. Fortunately, it was confined (in situ). The surgeon believed they removed it all. Nevertheless, Anca went to Mayo for a second opinion. They concurred that it had not spread.
It has been three years now since Anca was diagnosed, and she remains cancer-free. She has frequent follow-ups as recommended and will check with her doctors if she feels anything has changed. Anca believes that the early detection of her cancer saved her life. During the last two years as she has recovered, she lost two friends to cancer. They had believed their healthy lifestyles protected them and skipped recommended exams.
Anca took responsibility for her health and acted as her own best advocate. She researched her condition and fought for what she believed was the best course for her. She recommends always getting second opinions. Anca won this battle though she can’t be sure what the future holds. She does not focus on being afraid, however, but instead believes in living her life to the fullest.
Anca’s portrait seen here portrays the victorious spirit, strength and courage she has shown battling this disease. For more information on the Breast Cancer Superhero portrait project, visit: www.superheroportraits.com/breast-cancer-superheroes/