Construction workers in Northwest Indiana are wearing pink for a good cause.
About 100 workers at Highland-based EMCOR Hyre Electric Co. of Indiana are wearing pink hard hats this month as part of EMCOR's 10th annual campaign "Protect Yourself. Get Screened Today." The hope is to encourage more people to get screened for breast cancer this October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The company is a subsidiary of EMCOR Group Inc., a Connecticut-based Fortune 500 firm with 170 locations, 33,000 employees and $7.8 billion in revenue next year.
“This is EMCOR’s 10th consecutive year of spearheading the national Pink Hard Hat initiative," EMCOR Hyre President and CEO Thomas Corsiglia said. "Over the years people have come forward to say they believe this unique way of raising awareness of the importance of breast cancer screening has had a positive impact on their own lives or that of a loved one."
EMCOR specializes in mechanical and electrical construction, building services, and industrial and energy infrastructure, providing services such as value engineering and project management to clients in a wide array of sectors. Its workers will wear pink hard hats nationwide at job sites that include factories, refineries, shopping malls, hospitals, and highway projects.
“Many of our employees wear hard hats on a daily basis for personal protection, and we’re proud of their commitment to wear an EMCOR/EMCOR Hyre Electric Pink Hard Hat in October to raise awareness of breast cancer and remind women and men to get screened,” Corsiglia said.
For more information, visit www.emcorgroup.com/pinkhardhat.
Letters from Region breast cancer survivors
Letters from Region breast cancer survivors
Chances are one of your Region neighbors, friends or family members has known the heart-sinking sensation of a breast cancer diagnosis.
Many of us have known or have a loved one who we've watched fight the disease. Some of us are blessed to know survivors.
Others know the pain of losing someone to this scourge.
We recently asked our readers who've survived, are undergoing treatment or have been somehow affected by breast cancer to tell us their stories via letters to the editor.
The responses we received reflect the combination of fear, pain, courage and tenacity so many of our readers experience or exhibit in the face of a breast cancer battle.
On the eve of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we share their stories today as a reminder that those fighting the disease are not alone.
The stories shared on this page are truly inspiring, and we thank all participants.
Thankful for life
Today is a bittersweet day for me. Four years ago on this day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yes I know, the big C word! That dreadful word. I still remember it like yesterday when the doctor told me. It’s like I was in denial at first, then went into shock and then it hit me. The only thing I thought about were my precious three babies. I was torn. Yes I was only stage 1 which I thought, thank God it was an early stage, but I still had to undergo two lumpectomies, had to do chemo and radiation which was rough. But in the end, I did it. I overcame my fears and I’m thankful for life. I have a new vision on the meaning of LIFE cause none of us are promised tomorrow. We all take life for granted until we are struck in the face with some type of life-threatening situation. Some can choose to dwell and say why did this happen to me, or some can move on and take a different perspective like I have. It’s a second chance in life, to be a better person, to help others as much as I can and to spread the word on how important it is to self-check your breasts.
Emily Vera, Valparaiso
Twin sisters victory over breast cancer provides hope
You published a story on Nov. 16, 2013, about identical twin sisters Kelly McCarthy and Kristen Maurer, who were fighting breast cancer. At the time of their diagnosis, they were dealing with the loss of their mother from colon cancer.
Kelly was diagnosed first and had to go through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Kristen was diagnosed a few months later and had surgery. When both of them had sufficiently healed from first surgery, they had reconstructive surgery together in which Kristen donated body tissue and skin to Kelly to help in her reconstruction.
I am happy to say that they have reached their five-year milestone, and the odds for survival get better every day. Thank you to the University of Chicago Hospital and all of the doctors who participated in their surgeries. I hope their story provides hope for those who are battling this disease.
John Wisniewski, Crown Point
Breast cancer journey led to advocacy
It has been almost nine years since hearing those awful words. I chose to have a lumpectomy, followed by four rounds of chemo and 33 radiation treatments. I felt very fortunate in that my treatments didn’t make me as sick as I know I could have been, and I was able to work and go about my day.
I was and still am very grateful for my family, friends and people in my community who all rallied around me. My journey has led me to advocacy.
In 2011, I raised money and walked 60 miles in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer walk in Chicago. I try to donate and participate in awareness events, and I try to lend an ear whenever I can.
My advice to everyone is to listen to your body and get regular checkups and physicals. Be your own advocate.
Robin Cox, Schererville
Breast cancer carried blessings
I was blessed with breast cancer. I have been a nurse for 41 years. I have worked hospice and given chemo multiple times. It was a very different experience when I learned my diagnosis. Anna, my nurse navigator, kindly held my hand during the biopsy and gently broke the dreaded diagnosis to me on her day off.
The caring MD I work for facilitated my treatment. Faith was the tech for my first staging test. I always say my journey began with faith. It is very humbling to be on the receiving end of the extravagant care I was shown by my family, friends, church, patients and people I had never met.
I was suppose to be the giver, not the receiver, and receive I did. Quilts, knitted hats for my bald head, homemade broth, bread, cards, calls, a garden bed, robes, flowers, visits, coloring books, etc.
And especially prayers.
I felt God’s arms around me in all the love I was shown. Yes, it was painful and difficult, but I was never alone. I was blessed with cancer.
Jodie Black, Chesterton
Self exam forged road to survival
I had a mammogram in May of 2015, but three months later I discovered a large lump in my breast while taking a shower. It turned out to be stage-three breast cancer, which already had invaded some of my lymph nodes.
The news was devastating. Two surgeries were followed by chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
It's now 2018, and as I look back on all that happened three years ago, what I remember more than the cancer treatments was my devoted husband and loving family surrounding me in the hospital recovery room wearing tee shirts with "TEAM ROSE" on the back and "KNOCK OUT CANCER," with boxing glove graphics below it, on the front.
When I saw others wearing bright pink "TEAM ROSE" bracelets, I knew that prayers were being said for me. Those dark days were brightened by thoughtful and caring people who gave me their love and support.
How blessed I am to have God, family, church, Secular Franciscan family, choir family, friends, neighbors and a wonderful medical team to make sure I survived.
Mammograms and self-breast exams are important. Remind those women you love to get tested and follow a self-exam regimen regularly.
Rose Marie Anderson, Griffith
Still hopeful in the thick of a third fight with cancer
I’ll never forget that day in March, 2013. I was told to come in for further tests following my mammogram. That day, they wanted me to stay for a biopsy. I told them that I would come back after my job interview, and that is just what I did.
Two days later, my life changed. I got a job offer in the morning and was told I had breast cancer in the afternoon. In September 2013, I finished chemo, and in December 2013, I finished radiation. I worked throughout my treatment and didn’t miss a day.
Fast forward to November 2015, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the bones — five lesions. My oncologist, Dr. Kassar, had no doubt that he would get me back in remission. In September 2016, I was in remission, and things were good.
However, in April 2018, I was told that my cancer had once again appeared. It seems like it has outsmarted all of the drugs. I am currently on a new drug and hoping every day that it will get rid of the cancer once and for all. Too many of my family members have died from this disease.
Kathy Keith, Griffith
Cancer puts value of life in perspective
One week before Christmas last year, I was informed that as a 17-year cancer survivor, my breast cancer had metastasized to stage-four breast cancer of the lymph nodes, lungs and bones. WOW! Merry Christmas!
I had received my gift; my gift was cancer. Seventeen years ago, I considered the diagnosis of cancer a gift because battle has a negative meaning. Battles cause harm and destruction, and why couldn’t it be my gift?
Why do I consider cancer my gift?
It is a gift because cancer reminds us all that we are not going to live forever. We have every chance to make each waking day a day of JOY! We have the time to prepare ourselves, our families, our friends to the fact that we won’t be here forever.
We have a limited ticket to life on Earth. What have you always wanted to do, who do you have to forgive, what plans have you put aside or what preparations are necessary?
We have the golden opportunity to live out the life of love — loving God and loving our neighbor! What a wonderful gift!
Kathy Erdelac, Valparaiso
Grateful for the small things
I was diagnosed in 2011 with invasive lobular cell carcinoma. It was a shock, but I did not fall apart — to be positive is the best medicine. Following a mastectomy, I had chemo for six sessions and all was good. Chemo was hard to take, but with the help of my family, friends and my pastor — who reinforced my faith — today, after eight years, I am well and try to help others. My doctors at Rush were the best. Today I am a very strong-minded, positive and grateful for the small things.
Idelma Pescara, Dyer
Positive, fighting attitude key to breast cancer battle
The biggest concept I can share with you about fighting breast cancer is never say never, and always be prepared to be a trooper.
I was diagnosed in 2011 with stage-four metastatic left breast cancer. Surgery, radiation, chemo and special monthly chemical infusion, and I was all set to go.
I was diagnosed in 2015 as a breast cancer survivor and was excited to hear that. But one doctor told me it would come back some day, somewhere. That always haunted me.
In July 2018, I was told my PET showed a relapse — left hip, stage four. Here we go again. Thirteen rounds of radiation that made me nauseated 24/7 to this day (radiation can work up to one to two months in your system).
I'm waiting for October PET to see if I beat it. I'm staying positive.
When a doctor is pessimistic/cautionary, don't forget that. He was right in my case! And always stay the trooper and say bring it on. Have positive attitude! Be a fighter!
Heide Schaefer, Valparaiso
No more suffering in silence with breast cancer
My mother Audrey O’Neill was diagnosed in 1972 with breast cancer. At that time, the solution was cobalt treatment and the radical excision of her lymph nodes and entire breast region.
When she came home from the hospital, she couldn’t brush her hair because her armpit was hallowed out. She died before my 14th birthday in 1974.
I do not blame the medical community for her death. At that time, breast cancer was not “spoken of” in the media or by the community. What is most surprising to me is how she suffered in silence at that time. There were no support groups or education to support her.
When I go for a mammogram I still “inhale” when taking the test and “exhale” when I receive the normal evaluation. However, in these 40-plus years, I have witnessed aunts, friends and co-workers given “abnormal” results.
They have access to life-changing support groups and treatment options. It gives me peace to know that my Mom did not die in vain. Those that had breast cancer when it was a “silent disease” have blazed a path for us. They were the true pioneers.
Ann O’Barski, St. John
Breast cancer aftermath prompted creative product
I am nine years out. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 and underwent a bilateral mastectomy, the removal of both breasts, leaving me with an enormous scar across my torso.
I also had multiple lymph nodes removed, increasing my risk for developing lymphedema, which is a swelling of the arm that is lifelong and not curable.
But I am alive today thanks to the very dedicated and talented medical team that took care of me.
I had been “living flat” since surgery. I thought I would wear prosthetics when I desired some shaping, but I was surprised to learn that I had difficulty wearing them.
Traditional mastectomy garments are designed to accommodate the single mastectomy survivor but may also work for the double mastectomy survivor. The heavy and restrictive elastic across the bra band is designed to support the size and weight of the remaining breast in a single mastectomy survivor. But the double mastectomy survivor does not have a remaining breast, so we simply don’t need the heavy elastic support system.
In fact, the heavy elastic ends up lying directly on top of the mastectomy scar of the double mastectomy survivor, causing pain and irritation, while also being tight and restrictive, possibly heightening the risk of lymphedema. Plus the heavy weight of the silicone prosthetics just adds to the discomfort.
As a result, I would not wear any kind of prosthetic and would remain flat chested. I’m totally fine with living flat, since I have for a very long time. But sometimes I want to wear shaping. Maybe because I’ve found an outfit that looks better with a little curve to it, or I’m dressing up and want to add shaping, just as I would want to add other accessories, like earrings.
So I decided to design a top that took out all of the heavy and restrictive elastics, so there is nothing but soft material against the mastectomy scars, and I integrated ultra lightweight prosthetics in an all-inclusive top.
This top was so wonderful for me that I was encouraged to take it to market to share with other survivors who are having the same difficulties I was.
Complete Shaping, bilateral mastectomy apparel, was born. Our patent-pending garments are now selling online. We are hoping to help women everywhere boost their self-esteem and confidence and regain their pre-surgical shape in an extremely comfortable way.
Kathy Conway, Wilmette, IL (formerly Calumet City)
Attitude is everything
I just turned 30 years old September 2017, and my daughter found the lump on my breast while she was playing on me. I knew I had no family history of breast cancer, so I was not too concerned. I watched this lump in my breast continue to get bigger. In early March, I noticed the lump was protruding out of my breast and the pain was getting severe, so I knew I was in trouble.
I decided to see my family doctor, and they sent me out for a stat mammogram. After the results were in, it was confirmed to be stage-three breast cancer, and I also had four positive lymph nodes.
After 16 rounds (five months total) of chemotherapy and a mastectomy on Aug. 24, I will now begin radiation and start on my road to recovery.
I want others to know to never give up hope and keep up the faith because attitude is everything. You can do this and never ignore your body. Always speak up if you are concerned, even if you may not want to know the answers like myself.
Rachel Boose, Griffith
Sharing survivor stories helps others
June 21, 2016, I found a lump in my breast. Cancer never crossed my mind.
After all, I had no family history. Then the radiologist called the area “suspicious” while doing the ultrasound seven days later. I’m an ER nurse. I've read thousands of radiology reports. I know what “suspicious” means.
I had to tell my husband, who was sitting in the waiting room. I insisted he not come.
"It’s not a big deal,” I told him.
But he left work early to come anyway. He lost his mother to complications of stage-four breast cancer six months prior.
After the obligatory biopsy and surgical consult, it was confirmed: I had moderately differentiated, invasive carcinoma of the breast.
Fast-forward two years, and I am in “survivorship.” In the past two months, I have had three women I know personally who were diagnosed, one a very close friend.
My role has changed. I’m no longer the cancer patient but the cancer survivor and go-to person for answers. I posted my experience on social media as I went through it. If sharing my story saved one life, it was worth baring my soul. It did, so it was worth it.
Melissa Parker, Wheatfield
Surviving cancer twice was challenge of a lifetime
I’m a two-time breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed first at age 40 after finding a lump. At the time, I was married with three boys — who were 5, 4 and 1. In October 2008, I had mammogram and ultrasound, then needed to get two biopsies. I scheduled it to get same-day results by 5 p.m. I’ll never forget the call.
I was at my friend's because I was afraid to be alone. When they called and said one area was fine all I thought is the lump is cancer, and that is what she said. I just started crying. I went to Northwestern and had chemo, lost my hair and then had radiation.
I had great support from all who helped out, brought me meals and much more. Statistics say after five years, odds are 96 percent it won’t come back. Wrong!
Six years and two months later, a spot appeared on my regular mammogram. They tested it, called me the next day and again I get a call.
You have cancer!
I started screaming that my kids don’t need this. As a single mom, it was even harder and knowing what to expect. I made it through two surgeries and chemo again. Today I am cancer free.
Tracy Clark, Munster
Facing reality important in fighting breast cancer
I was diagnosed with triple-negative, stage-four cancer.
Sometimes, even when we remember all that God has done for us, it doesn’t change our circumstances. Sometimes we just have to accept it’s beyond our understanding and just keep going.
We must realize that acceptance is not denial. When you accept what God is doing, you don’t simply stuff your feelings down and let your heart die. When you accept that God’s up to something you can’t see or understand, you don’t just roll over and play dead and resign yourself to despair.
You keep praying for a miracle from him unless he tells you otherwise. You don’t pretend that everything is OK when clearly it’s not.
Sometimes you have to accept reality while waiting on God. It’s faith. Not faith that God will not do, but faith in God’s character.
God has spoken, so I’ll accept whatever he is doing, as difficult as that may be for me.
You remember what God has done. You accept what God is doing. You trust what God is going to do. God, I don’t understand what’s going on, but I accept that somehow.
Elisa Ryan, Hobart