Originally from Warren, Ohio and an alumna of Kent State University, Judi Harris has spent her entire adult life in Florida and now currently resides in Punta Gorda.
When were you diagnosed and what treatment did you receive?
My first diagnosis of breast cancer was in 2011. It was a hormone positive ductal carcinoma and was treated with a lumpectomy followed by four months of radiation.
Q: Did you face any obstacles? If so, how did you overcome them?
I tried to carry on with life as normally as possible. I worked and had other responsibilities. The radiation five days a week took a toll. I don’t think I have ever been so tired in my life. I actually had to lie down and nap once in a while. When people say, “it was just radiation,” you know they have never experienced it.
Where did you find the greatest support?
I developed an email list and sent regular update reports. You never realize how many people care about you until something like this happens. The writing for me was extremely cathartic. I was able to get my feelings out there and not keep them bottled up inside.
How has the experience affected your relationship with friends and family?
There are so many people who face challenges every day. I think having gone through cancer and survived for eight years makes you more appreciative of the people around you and gives you the determination to do the things you want to do because you realize you only have so much time on this earth. You have to try to live each day to the fullest and be the best person you can.
Can you speak more about your recent recurrence/relapse? Are you planning on doing anything different this time?
I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in June 2019. So, I was a survivor for eight years then there is a really scary second diagnosis. Triple negative is invasive, and the only real treatment is chemo. I’ve handled this one very differently. The first time around I listened to what the doctors told me and did as I was told. This time I researched thoroughly and asked questions non-stop.
Eleven years ago, no one explained that there was a law — “The Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) helps protect many women with breast cancer who choose to have their breasts rebuilt (reconstructed) after a mastectomy … This federal law requires most group insurance plans that cover mastectomies to also cover breast reconstruction.” It was signed onto law on Oct. 21, 1998.
Had I known this at that time, I would have opted for a double mastectomy and reconstruction. I have a family history of cancer. This July, I did have a mastectomy with reconstruction. But now, eight years later, having both breasts removed would have been a difficult recovery. I will begin chemo in September.
What advice would you share with others?
I have found as I visit health care professionals, the more you know and the better prepared you are, the stronger advocate you can be for yourself. I think all women need to be actively advocating for themselves. You must find the very best doctors to perform the procedures you need. You must trust them completely and they have to be the best at what they do. Be strong and make the best informed decisions you can for yourself. Never be afraid to ask questions and always remember that you make the decisions. Advocate for yourself with confidence.