For more information about the 2013 Columbia St. Mary’s Foundation Gala, please click HERE.
It’s often said that breast cancer is a disease that affects everyone. There is scarcely a person who doesn’t know someone – a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend – who hasn’t battled this disease.
It’s with these women in mind that we will gather on October 26th for the 2013 Columbia St. Mary’s Foundation Gala, presented by the Physicians of F.W. Madison Medical Associates, S.C. All money raised will benefit Columbia St. Mary’s Breast Cancer Programs.
Breast cancer is thought to be a disease that affects older women. In fact, the median age for a breast cancer diagnosis is 61 years old. But increasingly, women are developing this disease at younger and younger ages.
While still relatively rare, a recent study by The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that in 2009, cases of advanced breast cancer were found in 2.9 per 100,000 women age 25 to 39. That’s up from 1.53 per 100,000 three decades ago. That increase translates to about 550 more cases per year.
Breast cancer is a traumatic diagnosis for anyone, but when it strikes someone so young, it’s especially devastating.
In 2013, Amelia Coffaro became one of those young women. She was just a few months past her 28th birthday when she received her diagnosis.
Before February 6th, 2013, Amelia Coffaro was a normal 28-year-old woman. She was in New York City, working as a photographer and living her dream. But everything changed for her on that day in February.
For several months, Amelia had been experiencing back pain – when she was home in July of 2012 for a routine physical, an x-ray revealed a compressed disc. She also had a small lump in her chest, but it was believed to be just a mass of inflamed tissue. Her doctor instructed her to monitor it closely, and Amelia returned to her life in New York.
“I was so busy and always on the go. When you’re going, going, going, you kind of don’t feel the symptoms,” says Amelia. “It’s not like I was ever feeling really sick.”
But over the following months the back pain persisted and the lump got bigger. Right after New Year’s, Amelia knew something was wrong. On February 5th, she was on a plane back to Milwaukee, and the next day she was in her doctor’s office at Columbia St. Mary’s.
“My doctor took one look and knew immediately,” she says.
Amelia was sent for an emergency mammogram, breast MRI and an ultrasound. Later that same day she had a biopsy done and was diagnosed: Stage 3 Inflammatory Invasive Breast Cancer.
“I remember being sad and scared,” she says. “It’s a surreal thing. Your life literally changes in an instant. That was probably the hardest thing. But I didn’t have a choice.”
Amelia’s cancer care team – which includes Nurse Navigator Deb Theine, Radiation Oncologist Dr. Erika Swanson, Medical Onlogist Dr. Varsha Shah, Surgeon Dr. Alysandra Lal and Oncology Genetics Risk Counselor Laura Rebek – quickly assembled and immediately got to work on her treatment plan.
“I love that I have this team of women who are strong and caring. It’s a great thing,” she says. “I feel like I’m in the best hands possible.”
“It’s a long road. But if there ever was a time to just be, this is the time. You can’t do anything else but just be,” says Amelia. “You don’t know what’s going to happen, you just need to let go and trust that these doctors will see you through. The only thing you can choose is your attitude. You choose to be positive and you can choose to be happy.”
Amelia’s positive attitude and calmness in the face of so much uncertainty are truly remarkable. For most 28-year-olds, cancer is probably the absolute last thing on their mind. Doctors don’t even recommend women get annual mammograms until they reach age 40.
Amelia refuses to dwell on that, though. For her, she finds peace by staying busy and, as best as she can, continuing to do the things that made her who she was before the diagnosis. As a photographer, she found solace and inspiration through her viewfinder. Now as a cancer patient, she continues to use her camera as an expression of herself. From the very beginning, Amelia has been documenting her experience. It has helped her stay balanced and remember who she is.
“Having that camera takes me outside of myself,” she says. “I’m not sitting here as a cancer patient, I’m just a curious observer. That helps with the fear.”
Her photography also helps keep the legions of supporters and loved ones informed and up-to-date. Soon after her diagnosis, a group of her friends and colleagues back in New York launched Project Amelia, an online fundraiser that has raised more than $57,000 for Amelia’s cancer treatment.
“I am so grateful. Seeing what my friends are doing because they care about me is one of the most rewarding and hopeful things. It’s motivation for me to keep going and get better,” she says. “Every little ounce of support is love.”
Today, Columbia St. Mary’s treats more breast cancer patients than any other area hospital. We're a destination of choice throughout southeastern Wisconsin because women of all ages facing a breast cancer diagnosis know that at Columbia St. Mary’s, they will get the most specialized diagnostic approaches, state-of-the-art treatment options, a care plan that is easy to navigate, and a team of compassionate caregivers who treat every part of their health – their body, mind and spirit.
And this year’s Columbia St. Mary's Foundation Gala will help make that all possible.
This year, we will again return to one of our favorite locations, one that promises an elegant and memorable evening – the Milwaukee Country Club. This black-tie affair will feature a cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception, a gourmet three-course dinner, entertainment throughout the evening, a silent auction and live fund-a-cause auction.
For more information about the 2013 Columbia St. Mary’s Foundation Gala, including sponsorship levels and reservations, please click HERE.