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From The Times Herald:
There are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. That means there are nearly three million unique stories to be told and celebrated.
Glenda LeBron’s survivor tale begins with the 37-year-old Norristown woman undergoing testing following a third heartbreaking miscarriage in 2012.
Focused on finding an explanation for her losses, as a second thought Glenda asked to also be tested for the BRCA mutations, which are linked to an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancers, because her mother had breast cancer and her sisters also carried the gene.
“The BRCA test came back positive, and everything changed. I wasn’t worried about getting pregnant anymore — I was worried about why the test came out positive,” she said.
LeBron was referred by her doctor to Einstein Healthcare Network breast surgeon Dr. Ronit Sugar, who recommended she further explore the test results with a mammogram.
“A mammogram showed a cyst on my right breast, and they thought they could remove it but another (followup) mammogram showed it was still there, so they had to do a biopsy,” LeBron said.
When the biopsy results were in and LeBron was called into Dr. Sugar’s office, her “heart was racing,” and her head was filled with worrisome thoughts.
“I don’t remember anything else that (Dr. Sugar) said, except, ‘I’m sorry, you have cancer.’ I saw her standing there, moving her mouth, but I wasn’t listening to anything else,” LeBron said. “The moment she told me that it was like I was in a black hole, and I couldn’t get out of it.”
The next day LeBron received more life-changing news — she was pregnant. “I wasn’t prepared for that,” she said. “All I did was cry, worry, cry and think, ‘I’m going to have another miscarriage, and I have cancer.’”
“If she wasn’t pregnant, I would’ve recommended at that time that she possibly consider having her breasts removed and eventually have her ovaries removed,” Dr. Sugar said. “But … I knew how desperately she wanted to have children, and she had just had a miscarriage, so I wanted to make it work for her to carry the baby to term.”
Dr. Sugar also did not want to wait several months to treat LeBron’s cancer.
Developing an individualized treatment plan for each breast cancer patient “is absolutely important,” Dr. Sugar said. “It’s crucial for every woman to understand what all of her options are and the risks and the benefits of those options, and the woman has to take a very crucial role in making decisions about her own treatment.”
At the beginning of LeBron’s second trimester of pregnancy, she had a lumpectomy.“
I was I was trying to avoid a big procedure in a pregnant woman and thought we could buy a lot of time with a lumpectomy,” Dr. Sugar said. “As it turned out, this (noninvasive) cancer seemed to be spread throughout the breast, and it was unsafe to wait until the end of the pregnancy (for further treatment).”
Dr. Sugar explained that LeBron’s noninvasive cancer was “very curable, but the cure involves removing it all — which required a mastectomy.”
Soon after Einstein Medical Center at Montgomery opened last fall, LeBron underwent a successful double mastectomy at 20 weeks pregnant and came out cancer free.
“At first I was scared for the baby,” LeBron said of having major surgery while pregnant. “I was almost five months pregnant, and I could feel my baby. But then I found a website, www.hopefortwo.org, (the pregnant with cancer network), and that gave me hope that I could do both (beat cancer and be a mother).
The day before her surgery last year LeBron decided not to sit home and worry. “I went walking around Norristown and went into stores and collected money (to give to) Dr. Sugar for (breast cancer patients with no health insurance),” she said.
On the morning of her surgery, in the middle of the hospital waiting room, LeBron handed Dr. Sugar an envelope stuffed with more than $600. After hearing what she’d collected the money for, Dr. Sugar shed tears.
“Here’s this woman who not only had to worry about having both her breasts removed, but also she just desperately wants to keep this baby,” Dr. Sugar said. “Instead of sitting at home feeling sorry for herself or moping, she put all of her energy to great use and collected money to help other breast cancer patients.”
Dr. Sugar said she and LeBron “have a special bond.” LeBron feels the same way about Dr. Sugar.
“Dr. Sugar was not only my doctor, she was like my friend,” LeBron said. “She was very supportive in everything I decided to do.”
LeBron continues to collect money for breast cancer patients, only now she walks to Norristown businesses with her baby girl, Itzayana Yeretzi Jiminez, in tow. “I tell people we need to spread the word. You need to get checked if you feel something different in your body,” she said. “And people are very, very helpful.”
According to Dr. Sugar, LeBron’s collections are being funneled into a newly established fund at Einstein Medical Center at Montgomery for uninsured breast cancer patients in the community. “We’re using (her donations) as seed money and some other funds have been added to that, and we’re hoping to grow it and use it for a program here,” she said.
“Thank God my cancer was detected early, I’m alive and my baby’s fine,” LeBron said. “But a lot of women are still fighting.”
LeBron’s daughter, whose first and middle name mean “a gift from God” and “the one who will always be loved,” was born in February. Her black hair is accented by a streak of white over her forehead. “My sister said, ‘Your baby was blessed. She was touched by an angel,’” LeBron said.
“This baby is magic,” Dr. Sugar said. “It’s just really a miracle baby.”
LeBron’s risk of getting breast cancer again is “extremely low,” according to Dr. Sugar, who said she’ll still need further monitoring and reconstruction. LeBron will also need her ovaries removed in order to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
Over the sounds of her cooing, giggling baby, LeBron, who did not receive reconstruction immediately following her double mastectomy in order to limit the amount of time she was under anesthesia, said, “I’m not even thinking about reconstruction now.
She admitted that losing her breasts was at first difficult, and post-surgery, when she looked in the mirror, she cried for her loss. “I wanted my body back,” she said. “But my boyfriend (Jose Jiminez) hugged me and said, ‘You’re still the same woman.’
“And it’s true. I’m still the same — I just don’t have breasts,” LeBron said. “It’s hard, but … in the end I got my dream. I’m a mommy. And she’s everything to me.”