Cary mom Leslie Cook was either really lucky or really unlucky, depending upon how you look at things.
When Cook’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, Leslie, at 44, decided it was time she have the mammogram she’d been putting off for years.
A month later, Cook was diagnosed with breast cancer, too.
It was a double whammy with a slightly silver lining. Although Leslie Cook’s cancer was aggressive, doctors caught it early. Cook’s tumor was staged early “1A.”
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“Both my mom’s and mine are the two more aggressive forms of breast cancer,” says Cook, a full-time nurse at Glenaire retirement community in Cary with two kids, ages 16 and 19. “If my mom had not been diagnosed, I might have waited to get a mammogram, since there was no family history. I might not have been so lucky with the early-stage diagnosis.”
Both mother and daughter had the same doctor and often made their appointments on the same day.
“We could identify with what each other was going through,” said Cook.
Pretty in Pink offers to help
But having a family history with breast cancer isn’t as common as one might think. In fact, more than 85 percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history, according to the American Cancer Society.
Breast cancer can strike any woman at any time. The biggest risk factors: age and simply being female. In 2014, the Susan G. Komen Foundation estimates there will be 232,030 cases of invasive breast cancer diagnosed in the United States; it’s the most common cancer among women worldwide.
The good news is, treatments are better than ever before. So are survival rates.
But treatment is often expensive, even with good insurance. A few months ago, Cook applied to the Pretty in Pink Foundation for help with medical bills. The Foundation provides financial assistance to uninsured and underinsured North Carolina women with breast cancer, according to its website.
“I found out in September that my application was approved, and I had been selected to receive a grant from the Kyle Busch Foundation and was invited by Samantha and Kyle Busch to be their guest, along with the other recipients, to the NASCAR Nationwide Series ‘Drive for the Cure 300 Miles of Courage’ race.”
The night-time race, held Oct. 10 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, honored 300 breast cancer survivors or “champions.” It was Cook’s first NASCAR race.
“We received a pink limo ride from the VIP parking lot to the entrance of the stadium,” she says. “Then we were escorted to our luxury suite; we had great food, fellowship and fun.”
Samantha Busch visited with the champions and also presented the Pretty in Pink Foundation with a check for $53,000 for patient medical bills. The champions watched the race from pit row, said Cook, and met Kyle Busch, #54, driving the Monster Energy car.
Kyle Busch just missed finishing first, but that didn’t dim the experience for Cook.
One of the champions, Cook will receive some assistance with her bills through the Busch Foundation.
Not quite finished
Recently, Cook opted for additional cancer treatment – rounds of chemotherapy and Herceptin – after receiving a second medical opinion that the treatments would reduce her chance of recurrence.
She decided to go for it.
“I decided to give everything possible to prevent recurrence so I could be around for a long time for my kids,” says Cook. “I have finished chemo and now only have to go every three weeks for the Herceptin. I know a lot of people would not take the risk associated with chemo, but I was willing to do whatever I had to. Still, there are a lot of personal decisions people have to make with breast cancer; everyone reacts differently to treatment.”
Today, both Cook and her mom are doing well, but it’s been a long journey.
“It has been three months since my last chemo, and I’m feeling like myself again,” says Cook. “My hair has grown back in. My son particularly kept asking me when it was going to grow back.
“My family really helped me get through it,” she continues. “My kids and husband helped out around the house, doing things I normally would do. I’m hopeful that everything I have done treatment-wise and with close monitoring will keep me cancer-free for a long time.”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. For more information about screening and risks, visit http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month.