“On November 13, 2019, my doctor called me at work,” Jen Pizzuti recalled. “I was devastated to hear the diagnosis of breast cancer.”
The shock followed what should have been a routine mammogram. Fear arose. Her dad was a cancer survivor, but her mom died of breast cancer after a seven-year battle at age 52.
As she navigated more tests and screenings to determine the disease’s scope and how best to address it, Pizzuti relied on her faith. “Many times, I was on my knees and prayed with my two little dogs beside me,” she said, then added with a glimmer of humor: “Where two or more are gathered in My name….”
As she grappled with health issues, the pandemic hit. She wasn’t sure she could schedule the surgeries needed to contain the aggressive cancer. Yet through it all, she kept her composure. The double mastectomy occurred January 14, 2020. “The timing was a gift,” she said. “I was able to work from home and juggle treatments.”
Pizzuti’s enormous challenges are faced by many. “There is a 1 in 8 chance a woman in the United States will develop breast cancer,” according to Kristen Fuller, MD, in the October 27, 2020 post “Breast Cancer and Mental Health.”
Not only did Pizzuti struggle with physical pain, but there also was emotional stress. “Is someone going to love me looking this way?” she wondered.
She said the drastic surgery affected her sense of self. With cancer, “There’s a surge of emotions, such as fear, anger, sadness, and loss of self-esteem,” according to Diana Raab, Ph.D. “With this comes a sense of uncertainty and helplessness.”
“With cancer, you feel afraid of all the unknowns,” Pizzuti said. “You are bombarded with doctor visits and tests. It is overwhelming.”
She advises patients to be their own advocate. “Your voice needs to be heard,” she said. “Find doctors who take time to listen to your case. Every patient is different and reacts differently to treatments. The same pill can cause different side effects in different people.”
Many who cope with trauma get stuck surviving, but Pizzuti models a wonderful resilience. Pizzuti forged ahead to research medical terms and procedures. She educated herself about options and dialogued with physicians to formulate a recovery plan.
“The thriving phase pushes toward the next level of growth and transformation and ultimately to a sense of empowerment,” added Raab in her October 8, 2021 article “From Surviving to Thriving with Breast Cancer.”
“Above all, I admire Mom’s kindness,” said DeeDee Pizzuti, who is a licensed mental health counselor. “Even in her most challenging times, she never stopped being kind to others. When she was in the hospital, she would always bring a smile to anyone’s face she ran into. That made me so proud to be her daughter.”
Pizzuti’s second daughter, Natalie, also admires her mom’s courage. “Mom has used every hardship as an opportunity to look for more love from life,” Natalie said. “She’s shown me and those around her that you’re defined by the light and laughter you bring to others.”
Others witnessing Pizzuti’s strength speak highly of her. Jenn Pressimone would deliver her original all-natural aromatherapy creams to soothe radiation burns. “Whenever I’d go to Jen’s house, she’d wave from the window and give me a big grin. You could see joy despite all that she was going through.”
Pizzuti believes the journey with cancer has made her a better person. “I love who I am,” she said. “Cancer has gotten me out of my introverted shell and pushed me forward to help others.”
She leads a local cancer support group and still works full time. “Some might ask ‘Why me?’ but I say ‘Why not me?” Pizzuti said. “I’m strong enough.”
She said her husband, Robert, tells her every morning, “Lookin’ good in the neighborhood.”
*Jennifer Pressimone, a certified clinical aromatherapist and herbalist, specializes in holistic clinical aromatherapy. She formulates products and founded JennScents Inc.
*Breastcancer.org, founded by Marisa C. Weiss, MD, is a digital resource supplying education and support for cancer patients. http://www.breastcancer.org/about-uswww.breastcancer.org/about-us
*Diana Raab’s full article “From Surviving to Thriving with Breast Cancer”
*Kristen Fuller’s full article “Breast Cancer and Mental Health” http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/202010/breast-cancer-and-mental-health?amp