[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Breast density is a measure used to describe the proportion of the different tissues that make up a woman’s breasts. It compares the area of the breast and connective tissues seen on a mammogram to the area of fat. Women with dense breasts are four to five times more likely to get breast cancer than women with fatty breasts, but it is also not uncommon to get called back for additional screenings when you have dense breasts, because dense breast tissue makes it more difficult to interpret a mammogram. Today’s guest needed an ultrasound multiple years in a row following her annual mammogram, but in 2020, received a call that she was not at all expecting. She had breast cancer. Here today to share her story is Emily’s Zarecki. Emily, welcome to the show!
[00:00:57] Emily Zarecki: Thank you
[00:00:58] Adam Walker: so much for having me. Well, I’m excited to talk to you. Um, let’s let’s just dive in. Let’s start with your breast cancer story. Can you tell us about that moment when you were diagnosed?
[00:01:10] Emily Zarecki: Yes. It, it was a very, very surreal moment. Um, so I had, you know, gone back for the follow-up ultrasound, having done it before I wasn’t wasn’t too concerned. Um, but I did read in a. You know, the, the, my chart portal, uh, you know, looking at the results, of course, I don’t know how to read those medical terms, but of course I look at it anyway and I’m scrolling down and I did see a measurement that, that worried me in talking with my husband about it.
He’s like, you’ve had these before. It’s it’s no problem. It’s going to be fine. It’s going to be fine. So the next day I’m working away at my computer and the phone rings, and I see that as my gynecologist’s office. Here’s the call. And I’m expecting to hear the sweet voice on the phone, who I’ve talked to many times from front office.
And instead it was my nurse practitioner on the other line and she said, hi, it’s Gretchen. And immediately, I thought, why is she calling me? I’m not supposed to be, I’m supposed to hear from this, the office person. That everything’s fine. So I missed the first few things she was saying until they had the pause and say, did you just say I have breast cancer?
And she paused. And she said, I did. It was, it was a shock.
[00:02:27] Adam Walker: Wow. I would, I can only imagine what a shock that wasn’t. So did you have any history of breast cancer in your
[00:02:33] Emily Zarecki: family? There, there is history in my family, on my mom’s side of the family, both breast cancer and ovarian cancer. And I’ve learned, you know, through this time, how they’re connected.
So my grandmother, um, had breast cancer when she was in her late fifties. Um, and this was back in the 1980s. So it had been a long time. Um, and just a couple of years before my diagnosis, my cousin, who’s 10 years younger than me was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I think. Okay, this is getting a little too close, but I wasn’t, it wasn’t too worried.
Um, and then, um, a year, two years before I was diagnosed, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. So it just felt like this was. Almost closing in on me and feeling like, I just feel like it’s going to happen someday, but of course, trying to think it’s fine. I do my annual mammograms. Everything is good, but, uh, yeah, getting that call was, um, was still a shock, but you know, feeling like, okay, it’s in the family that also scared me cause I have two young daughters as well.
So. The family history thing was, was very
[00:03:40] Adam Walker: worrisome. Well, I mean, it sounds like because of that family history first, you were aware of it. And then second, you were doing your screenings proactively because of that, which is, which is fantastic and so important. Right. Very important. So what happened after that?
What did, what did treatment look like for
[00:03:56] Emily Zarecki: you? So, um, when I was talking with my, um, the nurse practitioner, uh, on the phone, she said, I want to get you. And to see an oncologist right away. So of course I was just automatically starting to feel a little overwhelmed, just, um, definitely overwhelmed with the whole, the whole thing.
But she said, I know someone who, cause I didn’t, you know, of course, nowhere to go. It was just kind of like, what do I do? And she was very reassuring and she said, I have this oncologist. I work for many patients to, I even referred a family member too. So I thought, okay, I’m feeling, you know, reassured by that.
And within a couple of days, I was in his office and I remember registering in the main, main entrance area and then taking that step and do a cancer center in this time as a patient. It was again, a very, very surreal moment. And, um, I just thought, okay, just take a deep breath and let’s figure this out and, you know, get to meet the team and find out what’s now.
[00:05:00] Adam Walker: Wow. I mean, I, I can only imagine how surreal that that moment has. I mean, just several moments, right? This series of moments, getting the, getting the call, but then taking the step into the cancer center. It’s just, just unreal. And so, so walk us through this from like a mental health perspective. I mean, how were you doing?
[00:05:19] Emily Zarecki: I, I was definitely, I think, still in shock. Um, very overwhelmed. Um, I remember talking with a friend of mine. About it. Just the fact that, oh my gosh, I was just diagnosed. It’s all starting. And I remember her saying, you’re talking almost clinically about it. Like you haven’t even grasped what’s happening.
You know, you’re, you’re absolutely right. It feels so surreal. I use that term so many times to talk about the early days that it just, it just felt so strange to like, this is what’s happening to me. Um, but I kind of quickly just went into the mode of, okay, here’s what it is, what do we need to do? So it was still kind of that, uh, you know, not really grasping the emotion of it yet, but.
Let’s learn what this is. I didn’t realize there were different types of breast cancer. So it was the last. Education, uh, my oncologist was phenomenal going through the different types and then very reassuring about, you know, talking through the treatment process and from the very beginning saying, you know, if we follow this process and it’s, you’ve got a year ahead of you, but if we follow this process, we’re looking at a 95% cure rate and you paused and you said, I’m not talking.
It’s treatable, I’m talking cure. And so I, I remember thinking I was almost like I could finally take a little breath and like, okay, there’s good news here. I see that light way down. I mean, it was, uh, a long dark tunnel, but from the very beginning, I was trying to have as much of a positive attitude as I could.
[00:07:00] Adam Walker: Ah, I love that. I love that. And, and, and like we mentioned a minute ago, you were, you were proactive about your screenings and I would imagine you’re probably a huge proponent of screenings and keeping up with manual mammograms. Is there anything that you’d like to share with our listeners about that, particularly during the pandemic and even particularly as it relates to having dense breast
[00:07:19] Emily Zarecki: tissue?
Yes. Yeah. When, uh, I learned, you know, a few years ago that. Dense breast tissue really didn’t know exactly what that meant. Um, and then talking with the, you know, mammography teams and as well as my own providers, just kind of educating me on the process and saying, because of this, you need to definitely stay on top of your mammograms every year.
And, um, I’ve definitely encouraged, you know, all of my friends, any, and as I was first even telling my story, Saying that, you know, it was becoming such a proponent for mammography screenings. I remember stepping in doing my first screening when I turned 40 and you know, it was scary. I thought I don’t even know what I’m worried about, but it just, the idea of it seems scary, but it’s not, it’s not that bad at all.
And just knowing how much, when you catch it early, how much it can save you. Hmm,
[00:08:13] Adam Walker: that’s right. And so important. So important. So, so last question. Um, people often ask how they can support people in their, in their lives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. What type of support was most helpful for you?
And what advice would you give those wanting to
[00:08:28] Emily Zarecki: help? Um, I received tremendous support from family, friends. It was so comforting. Like I just had all of their, you know, arms wrapped around me. Of course I was going through treatment or. During a pandemic, which was brought on some additional challenges, but, um, immediately, what was so great was that people weren’t saying, call me, let me know what I can do.
They were giving specific ideas. They were saying, we want to bring you dinner. My, uh, cousin and her husband, um, the one who had gone through breast cancer. They live out of town and she said, we want to bring you dinner. I was like, you’re about three and a half hours away. How are you going to do that?
She’s like girl door dash, like, gosh, she must have sent us dinner four times. Um, but it was the specific asks of peoples say. We want to bring you dinner or can we just stop by and visit? Um, I got a number of beautiful flower arrangements and gift baskets sent to me that were so thoughtful. And it was like people, you know, took the time to either talk with other people, but it was knowing that, you know, going through chemo.
I got gum and lemon drops, knowing, you know, different things that were going to be helpful. Um, I must’ve gotten five different blankets, but everyone is so special and, you know, journals and lotions and, um, it was just, and it was really throughout the treatment, so, so helpful. And then people even telling me, you know, you’re in our thoughts and prayers and sometimes you feel like it doesn’t mean anything or if it does, it’s just so little.
It really truly does mean a lot. And I remember thinking the day I was in surgery, I’ve never had, you know, any major surgery. I mean, I had a C-section with my daughters, but, um, you know, going in for surgery like this, I was, you know, had a double mastectomy, no idea. What’s in front of me and I couldn’t have been calling.
The entire time before surgery, and I thought that’s gotta be the, you know, that love and support and just feeling all of that love going into it. Obviously, you know, still having that positive attitude, but the just amazing support. So one thing I’d definitely encourage listeners is to, you know, not say.
Call me if you need anything, because the person on the other end is not going to call, right. But if you say, Hey, I want to bring you you dinner. Or a dear friend of mine said, what do you need? What are you hungry for? And I was like, no ice cream, starting to taste good again. And with. I don’t even think it was an hour and a half.
She brought over this basket with two big things of ice cream and toppings. And it was like the whole little sundae bar. And it was just, it was so great. And I just so many great examples like that of people thinking like, okay, I want to do something specific and here it is, we’re going to do this for.
[00:11:33] Adam Walker: Yeah, I love that. And you know, and I’ve had people in the show talk about that before. And I think I, I find that the way to think about that a lot of times is to ask yes or no questions. Like, can I bring you lunch right now? Yes or no. Right. Rather than what can I do for you? Cause what can I do for you?
Such a broad question and you can, you don’t have the mental capacity to answer it well, but can I bring you lunch? Can I come and vacuum your floor, you know, like whatever it is, those are things that you can respond to. And I think it helps you to see how other people can help you. Right?
[00:12:05] Emily Zarecki: Absolutely.
Absolutely. So those specific asks really, really make so much difference and, you know, realize that as little as it seems on their end, it’s, it’s huge from, from the person and even our family. We were just so, so grateful for all that support that the little things really do mean the most.
[00:12:25] Adam Walker: Well, they add up the little things really, really add up and that support adds up a lot.
Well, Emily, this is great. Love your attitude. You’re an inspiration. Thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
[00:12:36] Emily Zarecki: Thank you for having me.
[00:12:41] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit RealPink.com, for more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam, you can find me on Twitter at @AJWalker or my blog, AdamJwalker.com.