Monday, May 10, 2010

My Fourth Year Participating, My First as a Survivor

This entry was written by Denise Portner of Elkins Park, PA:

This May will be the fourth year I’m attending the Yoga Unites for LBBC event, and I always love the feeling of camaraderie, the gentle early morning sun on our faces, the quiet of a group of hundreds during yoga together. The Healthy Living Expo is fun, the food is fresh and the coffee is delicious. But this year will be different. It will be the first one in which I am a survivor. And the lesson I’ve learned is that any one of us can go from supporter to survivor. But with the help of loved ones and an organization like LBBC, we can make it.

I had gotten involved with LBBC through my work in public relations, connecting one of my client companies to LBBC as a sponsor. The CEO has since joined LBBC’s board of directors, as has one of my law firm clients. Both are men whose wives, sisters and other relatives have had breast cancer, and they want to be involved with an organization that touches women so profoundly, through individual support, as well as the highest level of educational programming and seminars around. That’s what hooked me too.

From the start, I was impressed with how easy it was to work with Jean, Elyse, and all the staff at LBBC and how quickly they felt like friends. In the meantime, I was on my own personal journey, since my mother and aunt had both had breast cancer. After my aunt was treated, she and my mother underwent genetic testing and learned they carried the BRCA 2 mutation. My sister and I were then tested, and I learned I was BRCA 2 positive as well. In the summer of 2008, after visiting two local Family Risk Assessment centers and receiving top-notch counseling, I was giving thought as to whether to take prophylactic measures to prevent breast and ovarian cancer. I was in my mid-40s, and my mother and aunt had been diagnosed at age 60. I assumed I had time.

Last May, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I was a participant in Yoga Unites for Living Beyond Breast Cancer. In our tradition, I shared the morning with my friend Risa, her daughter and mother, who is a survivor. During the program, I listened to the stories and prayed for the women who had gone through so much, and was glad to contribute to a great cause. Later in the month, I attended my 25th college reunion in New England, spent the weekend with wonderful friends, and had a great time.

But then in June, I had an MRI rather than a mammogram, because of my genetic status. It showed an area of concern that I subsequently had biopsied, and all of a sudden, and forever, I became a woman who had breast cancer.

In the year since, I have had surgery, reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. My care at Fox Chase Cancer Center has been top notch, and thank heavens, my prognosis is good. My family and friends have been there for me, and so has LBBC. The newsletters and teleconferences are suddenly extremely relevant – as if someone is reading my mind and addressing my concerns. Jean and Elyse have reached out to me, shared their experience, and put me in touch with experts for second opinions that are leaders in the field. The silver lining during this challenging year has been the expression of love and support I have received from my family, friends and colleagues, and the time I have been able to spend with them. I realize not everyone is as fortunate. Not everyone has the network I had, the insurance I had, the access to information and the ability to process it. And alas, not everyone is married to a physician who also cooks.

So this year, I appealed to my circle to help raise funds to support women who face this diagnosis with fewer resources than I had, because getting through cancer treatment is hard enough. This year, when we gather on the steps of the majestic Philadelphia Museum of Art, overlooking our beautiful city in the Sunday morning hours, my perspective will be very different. My sense of connection to LBBC and its supporters will be stronger. My compassion for those who suffer and worry and persevere, will be top of mind. And my gratitude for having reached this day, overwhelming.

It's not too late to part-take in this year's event! Sign up now at


  1. Wow, that's a story. Thank you for that beautifully written account of your personal experience. I am glad that you are doing well.

  2. kmpetrozelli@embarqmail.comMay 10, 2010 at 1:46 PM

    WOW, what a beautiful story. I too was diagnosed with BRCA 2 and had my mastectomy and reconstruction at Fox Chase, a wonderful and great hospital with many compassionate and caring physicians, nurses and staff. I also have had much support and now need to move on to the living beyond. I feel that I have not been able to make the transition on my own yet, but hopefully over time this will get better. Good luck to Denise Porter as she lives beyond the breast cancer diagnosis, and I am glad Denise is doing so well. I am also doing very well.

  3. That's an incredible story. I'm lucky to have Denise as a professional mentor and friend. My close friend, 26, was just diagnosed with appendix cancer. It’s comforting and inspiring to read so many stories about strong, fighting women, like Denise, who form a sisterhood and share the ups-and-downs with each other.

  4. Thanks for sharing that. I am looking forward to sharing solidarity with fellow pink warriors on Sunday