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Vicki Wolf survived Ductal Carcinoma In Situ and Invasive Ductal Carcinoma-BRCA2 genetic mutation




In today's Cancer Interviews episode with your host Bruce Morton, we will learn how Vicki Wolf survived Ductal Carcinoma In Situ twice and Invasive Ductal Carcinoma twice and underwent a skin sparing mastectomy and Latissimus flap reconstruction.  She shares with us about how she carries the BRCA2 genetic mutation and was diagnosed on each occasion after receiving a needle guided biopsy and a stereotactic core biopsy as well as an oncotype test.  She underwent four different types of chemotherapy and ongoing maintenance including Taxotere, Cytoxan, Arimidex, Zometa and Tamoxifen. 


Vicki Wolf spends part of each year in West Palm Beach, Florida and part in Margate, New Jersey.  Her husband, a registered pharmacist, opened a chain of drug stores.  He eventually sold them, after which he and Vicki opened a health food store.  In her spare time, she likes to play golf, hit the beach and travel.

 

Her aunt had been diagnosed with breast cancer in her late seventies, and that inspired Vicki to get a baseline mammogram at age 35.  This led to a diagnosis of Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, which was successfully addressed with a lumpectomy.

 

Two years later, Vicki was diagnosed with the same type of breast cancer and underwent another lumpectomy. 

 

For those first two diagnoses, no medications were needed. 

 

Vicki Wolf thought breast cancer was behind her, and it was, until at age 48, she was diagnosed a third time, this time with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.  This brought on another lumpectomy, but this time radiation was recommended and she endured 30 treatments of radiation.  At this time, she was on Tamoxifen, and heard about BRCA genetic testing coming to fruition.  Via additional diagnostics, she learned she carries the BRCA2 genetic mutation. 

 

This third, more invasive diagnosis placed Vicki at a mental and emotional crossroads, as she faced yet another test and from a tougher opponent.  She and her husband spent more time learning about genetic testing, and part of that involved being serious about her diet, going forward.  She sought to stay away from foods shot up with hormones.

 

Again, Vicki thought she had survived breast cancer when she was diagnosed a fourth time.  In this instance, she was 58 years old, and again it was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, found through an MRI.  In this instance, she learned she would have to go on chemotherapy, and she chose to undergo a double mastectomy.  Doctors used muscles in her back for the Latissimus flap reconstruction, which Vicky felt was the best option.  After the mastectomy, an oncotype test was completed, the score was much higher, a 29.  That’s when she learned she would have to undergo chemotherapy.  The thought of a chemotherapy regimen was daunting all by itself, but she was doubly devastated because she was leading such a healthy lifestyle.  The regimen included taxotere and cytoxin. 

 

After being diagnosed with breast cancer four times and surviving four times, Vicky feels a mixture of strength and gratitude.  Because she has the BRCA2 mutation, she realizes she is at risk for other cancers.  That’s why she is diligent about going in for colonoscopies, endoscopies to stay ahead of pancreatic cancer, and she goes in twice a year to be seen by a dermatologist who looks for signs of melanoma.

 

Meanwhile, about a year and a half after her third diagnosis, Vicky’s brother, Harvey Singer, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Vicky and Harvey were unpleasantly surprised to see the lack of awareness and preparation from the medical community regarding men and breast cancer.  They went on to establish a foundation, His Breast Cancer Awareness, which provides information and support for men diagnosed with breast cancer.

 

Additional Resources:

 

His Breast Cancer Awareness: https://www.hisbreastcancer.org


Transcription:


Bruce Morton: Our guest on this episode of the Cancer Interviews podcast has been through a lot.  Greetings, I’m your host, Bruce Morton.  Vicki Wolf of West Palm Beach, Florida, has survived breast cancer no less than four times.  Specifically, she survived ductal carcinoma in situ, twice, and invasive ductal carcinoma, twice.  She advocates for women diagnosed with breast cancer, but she sets herself apart in that she is a staunch advocate for men diagnosed with the disease.  She has quite a story to tell, and now it is time to hear that story, so, here she is, and Vicki, welcome to Cancer Interviews.

 

Vicki Wolf: Thank you, Bruce, and I am happy to speak to you.

 

BM: We always like to learn a little about our guests and their lives outside of cancer, so if you would, Vicki, tell us about where you are from, about your professional life and what you like to do for fun.

 

VH: I am a Philadelphia girl, Philadelphia and New Jersey, really.  I have resided in West Palm the past few years and do so for part of the year.  I have three beautiful, amazing sons.  They are all married and have provided me with two grandchildren each, so I have six beautiful grandchildren, three boys and three girls.  They have all remained in the Philadelphia area, so I have the pleasure of having them nearby and getting to see them often.  My husband, Gary, we are approaching 45 years of marriage, so I am very blessed that way.  I have worked in the family business.  My husband is a registered pharmacist.  We created a chain of drug stores.  From that point on, we sold the stores and opened up a health food store.  Our lives and my breast cancer sort of took us in that direction.  So, I am very thankful for that.  Our oldest son, Sam, joined us in the health food business through his online e-commerce business.  That was a great experience.  My other two sons joined the business as well.  One is a naturopathic doctor, so he was able to guide and counsel the nutritional aspects, and my other son was a vendor relations buyer.  We would all have lunch together and it was a lot of fun and it was a great opportunity to be with them.  In my spare time I play golf and I have done so for many years.  I enjoy anything outdoors, the beach and warm weather, and love to travel.

 

BM: Vicki, your cancer journey is a bit different from others in that many of us who have survived cancer experienced something internally or externally that let us know something was abnormal and this led to a cancer diagnosis; but in your case, cancer was discovered because you were being proactive.  Tell us how that went.

 

VH: My aunt had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was in her late seventies, so at age 35 I went in for a baseline mammogram.  Great.  Two years later, my mother, also in her seventies, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I called my doctor to let him know my mother had been diagnosed.  He said I was due for a mammogram.  So, at age 37 I went in for a mammogram, not thinking much of it.  My mother went with me.  When I walked out, she said I had been in there too long, and wanted to know what was wrong.  They thought they saw some suspicious calcifications, so we proceeded further and sure enough it was DCIS, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, meaning the cancer was contained within the duct.  We did a lumpectomy, then had to do a second surgery because they didn’t get clean margins.  I thought I was 37 and moved on with it.  I continued with the mammograms, and two years later, through a mammogram, again, no symptoms, nothing to give me any advance warning.  They again thought they saw something suspicious, and it turned out to be DCIS in the same area of the same breast.  However, this time there was a different cellular makeup, so it wasn’t something left over.  It was actually a new cancer.  Those were my first two diagnoses.  Because at this point I was being closely monitored, mammograms every six months and MRIs every six months on a rotating basis.  Eventually, there was a third diagnosis.  That unfortunately was a bit more invasive.  It was found early because we were keeping up with being proactive.  So, the third diagnosis was invasive ductal carcinoma.  We did the lumpectomy, and radiation was recommended, 30 treatments of radiation.  I was on Tamoxifen, and that’s when I learned about the BRCA genetic testing that was coming to fruition about the same year.  I found I carry the BRCA2 mutation via additional diagnostics at that point.  I was continuing with breast MRIs and mammograms, and the fourth diagnosis was actually found through the MRI.  They thought they saw something, and my oncologist sent me for a mammogram and an ultrasound.  They said they were down to my rib cage and didn’t see anything from the ultrasound.  I had about a week reprieve, but after an MRI, they saw they thought they saw, and that was my diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma, my fourth diagnosis.  At that point, I also needed chemotherapy, and concluded I would need a double mastectomy.

 

BM: We’re confident you’ll be able to learn some tips and tools to help you through your personal cancer journey, but first we’d like to ask you to please give us a ‘like,’ leave a comment or review below, and share this story with your friends.  Kindly click on the Subscribe button below, then click on the bell icon, so you’ll be notified the next time we post a cancer interviews.  And if you or a loved one are facing a cancer diagnosis, please click on the link in the Description and Show Notes below to check out our free guide, “The Top Ten Things I Wish I Knew When I First Got Cancer.”

 

Vicki, let’s talk about your first diagnosis.  All of us are different, our persona is different, the severity of our diagnosis is different, so, based on the variables accompanying your diagnosis, how did you handle this horrific news?

 

VH: I was definitely surprised because I was only 37.  I guess with my family history, we have a lot of cancer.  I always thought after the diagnosis of my aunt and my mother that it was something I would have to deal with.  I just didn’t think it would be so early in my lifetime.  I am a glass half-full kind of person, so for me, it was let’s just get this out and move on, and I’ll think about this again when I am seventy.  The second diagnosis surprised me two years later at age 39 to be that young and have a breast cancer diagnosis, so at the point it becomes a little more challenging.  I am very health-minded, I eat healthy, I exercise, within weight parameters, I think I was doing all the right things, so I was definitely surprised that so young that I received such a diagnosis. 

 

BM: Let’s talk about the first type of cancer with which you were diagnosed. Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.  For those unfamiliar with it, what are some of its particulars?

 

VH: It’s a good diagnosis, relatively speaking.  That’s because it is still contained.  That means it has not into your lymph nodes, into your system.  It is contained in the milk duct, which is why we went ahead with the lumpectomy.  We feel we got what we needed, clean margins, and we could move on.  As a result, the first two diagnoses were easier to swallow. 

 

BM: And what medications did you take for those first two diagnoses?

 

VH: None.  For those first diagnoses, none were needed.  It wasn’t until it was more invasive, but I there must be something I can do.  There must be something I can do differently.  The only answer I got from my breast surgeon is we are going to do a mammogram every six months.  I felt like to some degree I needed to take control.  That’s when my husband and I started to read up and learned all of my diagnoses are hormone-positive, meaning they are estrogen-positive, meaning they are fed off of the hormones that we created in our body, so choosing organic foods where that are not shot up with extra hormones is really important.  We looked at some supplements.  My husband and I went into the health food and supplement business.  We both continued our education as certified health care practitioners.  There are some great supplements out there that can be helpful.  I am not going to say you will never get cancer if you take these, but I still believe even to this day that even with my four diagnoses that what we put in our body and on our body does make a difference.  How we process stress makes a difference, so adding supplements can make a difference.  So, maybe between my second diagnosis and my third diagnosis, which was ten years, maybe it would have been five if I wasn’t doing these things, I don’t know, but I would like to think that it helped.

 

BM: You have mentioned your glass half-full approach to a lot of things, so to some degree, I think I already know the answer to this question; but I am thinking, after you got your third diagnosis, mentally and emotionally, you must have been placed at a crossroads.  You could say to yourself, you have survived the less invasive form of breast cancer, and as such, you will survive the invasive ductal carcinoma, or, you could say after surviving the first two diagnoses, you wonder how you will be able to handle this tougher opponent.  Knowing that mentally and emotionally, you could go one way or the other, how did you lean?

 

VH: I would be lying if I said that was easy.  It definitely wasn’t.  There were an array of emotions and confusion going through my head.  I wondered, “Why is this happening?  Why does this keep happening to me?”  I was wondering if it was something I did, something I didn’t do.  You do checks and balances with your own life.  When it was suggested that I meet with an oncologist regarding that third diagnosis because it was a little more invasive, to get an opinion, I saw this pamphlet about genetic testing.  I was at the University of Pennsylvania, and I picked it up and thought its content was interesting.  I then thought my cancer was something not in my control.  I honestly didn’t think about the genetic testing for myself as much as I was thinking about it for my children and grandchildren that maybe one day there will be something, a vaccine, that this information will help them.  I think that is a lot of what got me through my third diagnosis.  I went ahead, had the testing, found out the results and learned that I carried the BRCA2 mutation.  Everyone should know they carry the BRCA gene.  It is when there is a mutation in that link that creates the issue.  That could be for men or women.  It can be passed down from a father or a mother to a son or a daughter.  I just felt that now I had this information at hand.  The first thing that was recommended to me was to have a full hysterectomy.  At the time I was 48 and I figured this was going to put me into menopause, which would not be fun, but it would lower the amount of estrogen produced, as well as remove the risk of ovarian cancer, at which a woman is of much higher risk, and that is a harder one to detect earlier.  Those are the reasons for having the hysterectomy.  I really thought between the lumpectomies, clean margins, radiation, hysterectomy, and the Tamoxifin, which I was put on five years to reduce the development of further hormones, and at that point, I thought I was ahead of the game.  And I live a healthy lifestyle and I do all of these other wonderful things.  At that point, I thought of going in for a mastectomy after all that, I thought I was done.  I needed a little break, a little reprieve.  At least I was continuing every six months with my breast MRI and a mammogram.  I won’t say there wasn’t anxiety before each visit, but you get through it, you take a breath, and you get the next five-and-a-half months and you start all over again.  You don’t want it to control your life.  I don’t want breast cancer to control who I am or what I do, but I won’t say there is a day that goes by when it is not in the forefront of my mind.

 

BM: You underwent chemotherapy on the third and fourth diagnoses?

 

VH: No, just the fourth, ten years later in 2017.  I had the surgery, did the double mastectomy.  We used muscles in my back for the Latissimus flap reconstruction procedure, so that was the best option for me.  Incredibly, I didn’t think that much about the chemo.  I just thought after the mastectomy, we are going to move on from this, and the oncotype test was completed, it was much higher, a 29.  That’s when the doctor said we would need to do chemotherapy.  I was just shocked and kind of a little devastated because I am so health-minded and health-oriented that thoughts of putting something like that into my body was not an easy thing for me to accept.  However, I will say with the education that my husband and I have, we were able to do a lot of counterbalancing and we understood what we needed to do to keep me healthy and strong, and I think those things really helped, so I am thankful for that.  I did taxotere and cytoxin.  I did have a beautiful wig for my son’s wedding.  I danced and I was there and I am very thankful.

 

BM: That’s another thing I was going to ask you about, the other effects of chemo.  The hair loss, the taste of food, the fatigue.  What was that like for you?

 

VH: All the fun stuff of chemotherapy, unfortunately.  My hair started to thin.  I had longer hair, but I started to cut it.  I eventually went and had my head shaved.  That was actually a moving experience.  I had my husband with me, and my hairdresser showed him how to do it.  He shaved my head.  It was hard, but it was better than I thought it would be.  I really just anticipated the worst and wondered what I would look like.  I went out and bought a couple wigs, which I didn’t wear very often.  I just decided to let my hair look like its natural self, and I get compliments all the time, so maybe the hair part wasn’t so bad.  Fatigue was definitely challenging, especially the fourth day after treatment.  That was the hardest.  It took me a couple treatments to learn that.  On the fourth day I didn’t even open the shades to the windows.  I just accepted that that would be a bad day.  Stayed in bed and enjoyed ‘me’ time.  I am very blessed with a wonderful husband.  He is very supportive and caring.  He has emptied a lot of drains in his lifetime, has taken care of me throughout the experience.  I have to say if you somebody that is there for you, whether it is a friend or a spouse or a significant or a child or whatever, it helps you through it.  I did have other symptoms that weren’t so much fun.  I lost all of the top layer of skin on my palms.  Skin was very tender and raw.  It would peel off, also on the bottoms of my feet.  Lost a toenail at one point.  Yeah, chemo doesn’t do a lot of pretty things for you, but you get through those.  At least for me, I had to take that with other parts.  You have to know you are doing everything you can do to make yourself healthy again, and you hope it works, and unfortunately at this stage where cancer is in the world, it’s the best we’ve got.  I think overall I fared fairly well.  I kept fairly active.  I walked when I could walk.  I am not a ‘woe is me’ type of person, so I wasn’t going to just lay in bed. If I could offer any advice, it would be to keep moving.  When you have those down days, accept them and know that tomorrow could be a better day. 

 

BM: Our guest is Vicki Wolf of West Palm Beach, Florida.  She has been diagnosed with breast cancer four times and survived four times, and Vicki, when you think about that, what sentiment is top of mind?  Strength?  Gratitude?  A little of both?  Something else?

 

VH: Definitely both.  I think you have to have those.  I think you need to use those and put them into your heart and soul and your mind, because I don’t think it gets you anywhere to think otherwise. Do I say I am out of the woods, and I will never have to deal with cancer ever again?  I can only say I hope not, and that I am doing everything I can to prevent that.  I do go for my colonoscopies, because I have the BRCA2 mutation, unfortunately I am at higher risk for other cancer as well.  That doesn’t mean I will get them.  It just means I am at a higher risk, and so because of that we do other testing.  That includes pancreatic cancer, so we do an endoscopy, either that or an MRI of the organs.  I get full body scans with the dermatologist twice a year for melanoma.  You have to be aware.  Don’t assume because you have some pain that it’s no big deal.  If the pain doesn’t go away, don’t not get it checked.  That’s the most important thing.  Whatever it is, you cannot assume, and you have to be your own advocate.  If it rears its head again, you need to get it checked and only hope that it doesn’t. 

 

BM: Vicki, we are going to wrap up now, but I want to cover a very important subject before we do.  While women get breast cancer, men can be diagnosed with the disease as well.  This has hit very close to home for you, as your brother, Harvey Singer, was diagnosed, and the two of you have done a great deal to shine a light on men’s breast cancer.  Could you tell us more about what you are doing?

 

VH: About a year and a half after my third diagnosis, and finding out about the genetic mutation, which I shared as I have two brothers.  We also have three sons.  We all talked about this and what it could mean.  Harvey heard me talk about breast cancer but didn’t give it much thought because he’s a guy.  Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.  Men have breast cancer because they have breast tissue.  It develops just like every girl out there, but at puberty it stops progressing.  So, there is breast tissue in every man, but they should be checked for self-breast exams or talking to their doctors to see if they have a higher risk or have genetic testing completed, those are all things that a man has to think about.  Unfortunately, it is not often talked about.  Harvey did call me one day and said he had a little pain around the nipple area and that he was going to see his primary care physician.  He called again and said his doc wanted him to get a mammogram, and wanted to know how a guy could get a mammogram.  The answer to that question is that yes, a man can get a mammogram.  Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with breast cancer, he did have a mastectomy, he does also carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation.  With that, higher risk for a man is prostate cancer, so he also had that about a year and a half after the breast cancer.  Being a man diagnosed with what we will call a woman’s disease in the world of pink, there is a lot of stigma, that goes along with that.  It is not easy, and a lot of the medical world doesn’t always know yet how to deal with a man with breast cancer.  What are the proper procedures?  He got an injection at one point that he shouldn’t have gotten.  He asked about it and his doctor said that was an injection that should have gone to a woman.  It is not an easy trail at this point, but it has improved.  So, we decided we wanted to do something about this and help others, and with our family, brothers and sons, we wanted it to be different for them, and we created our own non-profit foundation.  It is called His Breast Cancer Awareness.  The web address is HISbreastcancer.org, where you can find our website and a lot of great information.  We are there for support, we are there for education.  We also have a Facebook male breast cancer support group.  It is a place for you to ask questions, get answers, get some camaraderie, other men, other women who provide support.  My sons, I have a set of identical twins and they both carry the BRCA2 mutation as well, unfortunately.  They all go for their baseline mammograms, and their self breast exams.  Being aware is the first part, so if you are a woman out there listening, talk to the men in your life, teach them how to do a breast exam, it is the same way you do it.  There are directions on our website.  We have informative pamphlets and a great shop page with a lot of good swag that really helps with awareness.  If you are wearing it, somebody is going to ask you about it, I guarantee it.  It is a great way to support our organization as well.  We’re doing what we can to at least to hopefully help men know that they can be diagnosed, and they are not alone.

 

BM: Vicki Wolf, thank you very much for your story.  We have heard about how a lot has been thrown your way and you have overcome a lot and that has to be an inspiration for anyone on a cancer journey.  So, Vicki, thanks very much for being with us on Cancer Interviews.

 

VH: Thank you, Bruce, appreciate it.

 

BM: As we close we will remind you that if you or a loved one are on a cancer journey, you are not alone.  There are people out there like Vicki, organizations like His Breast Cancer Awareness that are there to help.  So, until next time, we’ll see you on down the road.

 





 

 


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