Optimistic and surrounded by a strong support network of friends and family, Occhicone says the best advice she can give other women is to make sure they get a second opinion before treatments begin, and find and stay involved in a support group.
“I got lucky,” she said. “Every six months I have a checkup, I’m monitored by my oncologist and my plastic surgeon. I recommend that women have their slides and x-rays reviewed by another pathologist. Get as much information before treatments begin.”
Unfortunately, Betsy Mullen of San Diego, CA did not learn enough about her chemotherapy treatments before they began. Diagnosed with breast cancer at 33, she went through a rigorous chemotherapy regiment. But unlike Schumacher and Occhicone, Mullen’s treatment protocol threw her into permanent menopause, a side effect she was never warned about.
“Had I known the risk of infertility, I could have consulted with a fertility expert before I began chemotherapy,” said Mullen, who in 1994 founded and now directs the Women’s Information Network Against Breast Cancer (WIN ABC).
According to Mullen, the harvesting of healthy eggs prior to chemotherapy treatments was not an easily accessible option when she was diagnosed eight years ago. But today, women who want to protect their eggs and not compromise their cancer treatment schedules like Occhicone did, can do so through egg harvesting, the female version of sperm banks.