Sadly, on October 20, 2008 Lisa Antonitti passed on to her next life at the young age of 37 having fulfilled her wish and dream to be remembered as a Christian woman, a wonderful mother, daughter, sister, and contributing member of her community. Her determination to live out one of her final dreams, to attend the Kicking Cancer’s Ass Conference in Oct. 2008, will be remembered by all who attended. Lisa will be missed by everyone who knew her, but we know her strong spirit will remain with us.Age at
Diagnosis: 29 (2000)
How did you find out you were sick? What events led to the diagnosis?
My G.P. was closing his office to work full-time in a breast clinic. On May 30th, 2000, I went to pick up my medical chart and he examined me for the last time. Since he had experience with breast cancer, he found the lump (it wasn’t too difficult to find since it was 6cm). He gave me a referral for an ultrasound. My husband, at the time, had a friend who worked in bookings at the Montreal General Hospital and scheduled the ultrasound appointment for June 8th. My babysitter bailed out at the last minute so I brought my 20-month old daughter with me. At this point, I really wasn’t concerned since I never had any serious health concerns. When I had the ultrasound the technician called the radiologist a.s.a.p. The radiologist (who was a real God send) immediately took things in hand and sent me to a surgeon. The surgeon performed an FNA (fine needle aspiration) on the spot to rule out a cyst. He told me it was not a cyst and that we would have to schedule other tests. Both these doctors were great; compassionate and offered as much detail as possible considering the information they had and the fact I was there alone with my daughter.
Having been there for the whole day, I began to realize this was a lot more complicated then a simple cyst you can just drain out. The radiologist scheduled a MRI on June 16th and a mammogram on June 19th. After this I had a 14 gage needle biopsy. The surgeon was gentle and it went well. He told me he would get the results in a week and asked if I wanted to get the results over the phone or be called in for an appointment. I wanted the diagnosis a.s.a.p. and asked him to call me.
On July 3rd, the surgeon called with the pathology results. By this time I pretty much knew it was cancer. The surgeon was very sympathetic and gave me the diagnosis. I held my daughter in my arms and cried a little. I told her I loved her very much.
What year was it? What was your age at the time?
At what level of education were you at diagnosis?
I was working at McGill University as a dietitian. I worked with a multidisciplinary team in an eating disorders unit for McGill University students.
Do you work? Not presently. I volunteer at my daughter’s school one day per week.
What was your diagnosis?
Invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.
What were your first thoughts when diagnosed?
In the 29 years I had been living, this was the first time I had something serious. I was grateful for that. I also felt I could get through this. God gave me peace of mind.
How did your family react?
This was my main concern. The very first day I went to the hospital for an ultrasound, I remember looking at the radiologist and asking her, What will I tell my mother? My radiologist is amazing. She told me to tell my family because I would need their support. She was right. Fortunately, it brought my family closer together. All my family really showed their support and love. At times my mom, sisters and occasionally my brother and I would all go away for a weekend to have some family time together. Through the past 6 years, my mom and I have had a real daughter-mother relationship. My siblings and I are closer. This was a first experience with cancer in the family and it also had negative ripple affects. The women in the family got a little worried about their own risk of getting breast cancer. One of my siblings decided to separate from his spouse. Perhaps when something hits close to home, life somehow seems vulnerable.
How did your friends react?
Many were extremely supportive. I talked openly about it and let them know that God was giving me strength (I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Phillipians 4:13 = The verse God gave me from the very beginning). Often friends asked what they could do for me and I always asked them to pray because I knew prayer was making a big difference. One friend had my daughter and I over for a weekend or a week of rest and relaxation. Other friends made meals or came over and watched my daughter. A few friends disappeared, but I’ve made a lot of new friends.
What did your treatment consist of?
Medical Side: Initial dx July 2000: invasive ductal breast cancer: 1st chemo AC (Adriomycin & Cyclophosphamide)=4trts, then surgery, 2nd chemo Taxol=4trts, 5 weeks radiation and then tamoxifen. November 7th, 2002: metastasis to the liver largest tumor 12cm with scattered little ones: 3rd chemo Taxotere (hospitalized for Febrile Neutropinia for a week, then put on Neupogen injections) after 6trts Taxotere was too toxic for my body and we switched back to Taxol; after 6months and 14 treatments (trts) the cancer was resisting treatment and 4th chemo Navelbine began (1x/week) Feb. 27th, 2003: metastasis to the brain: initial treatment 16mg decadron/day and 5 trts whole brain radiation Jan. 7th, 2004: emergency brain scan=metastasis to the brain resisted: 10trts whole brain radiation and Radio-Surge boost intense radiation directed to the tumors in the brain After 23 months of weekly Navelbine treatments this chemo was no longer effective and the 5th chemo Caelyx began. Presently, I am on Caelyx chemo treatments every 5 weeks to control the liver mets. Since the last brain radiation treatments, there have not been any symptoms of active brain tumors.
Non-Medical Side: Before the diagnosis of metastasis, I continued with my part time job at McGill and spent the rest of my time focusing on my daughter, Rachel. My energy was definitely low so we would play games together (Rachel’s favorite was memory game, great for keeping me on the ball!) or we would cuddle and watch her movies.
At first, my life felt like it revolved around the cancer related side effects or appointments. When my white blood cells were low, I was treated with white gloves. Everyone was afraid to get too close to me and contaminate me. I thought this was hilarious because I went to the hospital regularly (great place to catch just about anything) and I was hugging and kissing my daughter, Rachel. I washed my hands all the time and felt I was becoming compulsive about it.
Since the metastasis, I do not feel my life revolves as much around cancer issues; cancer is there and I live with it. I do not feel like the cancer is a huge part of my life although it has had a huge impact on it. Emotionally, I soak in all the love that surrounds me from my God, family, friends, medical staff, and even the strangers who exchange a smile or a kind word.
I learned to feel the sincere compassion others displayed. I also learned that I did not have to do everything on my own; it’s okay to have help. It’s made me more sensitive towards others and myself. The side effects I’ve had are so numerous it would fill a chapter in a book.
In which hospital(s) were you treated?
Mostly at the Montreal General Hospital and occasionally at the Royal Victoria Hospital.
What is your current medical status?
Stable = Remaining tumors are not growing. Still in treatment. Chemotherapy to control a few small liver tumors. Two small remaining brain tumors have not shown any activity since the radiation therapy in January 2005.
How is life different for you now post diagnosis (physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually)?
Physically: Low energy for getting daily chores done yet able to work out several times a week. Emotionally: Better able to express my true feelings. Socially: Better, however late nights are rare; I can’t handle not getting enough sleep for long. Spiritually: Faith is stronger and feel closer to God.
What is/was the toughest part of your challenge?
Low energy. Dealing with overly concerned friends and family. Not wanting those that care about me to get stressed. I have peace of mind and I do not want others to get stressed over it.
What is/was the best part of your challenge?
The blessings I have received. God has given me a wonderful support system. Family and friends that truly care and love me.
Having the knowledge that God’s purpose for me is to give the message of HOPE. I know that when I am in the middle of a storm, I have the assurance that if I fall I will land safely in God’s hand. Anyone who is willing to have this relationship with God can have this hope and serenity.
What really motivated you to keep going while you were sick?
My faith, my daughter, knowing that this life is temporary and my eternal life will be in heaven with a perfect body. Yeah!
What lessons or messages have you taken away from your experience?
Turn fear into faith. Faith into hope. I’ve grown in many positive ways. I have learned to accept help from others and allow them to express their love in this way. My relationships with people I know and people I meet are more meaningful. I’m more sensitive to other people’s needs.
What are your thoughts and feelings about your illness now? How have they changed since before your diagnosis?
After 6 ½ years, I feel it is a part of my life, although I do not feel like it is my life. I still feel it is a blessing and would not change the past if I could.
What are some (if there are any you know of) preventative measures that people can take to lower their risk of having an experience like yours?
Do the self-breast examination every month and as much as possible decrease the stress in your life; Don’t Let Jerks Get the Best of You (a great book I read after the fact). Apart from that, it’s hard to say. There’s no cancer in my family, I ate well, I exercised, I breast fed my daughter; the only real risk I had was being a woman.
Did you attend any support groups during your challenge?
Yes. Immediately I was connected to a newly diagnosed Breast Cancer Support Group. It was an amazing group. The facilitator herself was a young adult and had had breast cancer. We were an interesting group because half of us were under the age of 35. We clicked right away and friendships started building.
It absolutely helped. One of the girls and I had a lot in common. We were both mothers and information seekers. Another girl worked at the Bell Center and was able to get us four great seats for a hockey game. The Canadians won that night Koivu scored!!! We shared a lot good and bad. Another got married and we all went to the wedding. Once exposed to a good support group, I realized there are a lot of resources out there.
How are you connected with Young Adult Cancer?
An alumni told me about [Young Adult Cancer and] the retreat. It was excellent; [there were] great resources and the information at the retreat was great. The retreat weekend was intense yet great [as was] connecting with other cancer survivors. Great job guys, keep up the good work!