DANVERS — As a nurse in the Medical and Day Surgery Center at Beverly Hospital at Danvers, Noreen Forlizzi can relate to the young women she sees in recovery who have undergone breast biopsies.
“It’s helpful, I think, for the patients. I like to tell them, when I talk to them, how young I was when I was diagnosed. I see that sigh of relief when I tell them that,” said Forlizzi, 57. “I wished I had someone to talk to who had had breast cancer at such a young age and who had survived. It would have made me feel a little less scared.”
Forlizzi, a Danvers resident, is celebrating her 25th year as a breast cancer survivor. When she was 32, she found a lump while doing a breast exam on herself. Then a registered nurse in the outpatient oncology ward at St. Elizabeth’s in Brighton, she was aware of what the discovery could mean. She made an appointment, and doctors determined the lump was cancer.
“Your first reaction when you hear that diagnosis is you’re going to die,” she said. “Being that young age, I didn’t have anyone I could relate to. I was so frightened for my children.”
With a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, she decided to undergo a bilateral, or double, mastectomy at St. Elizabeth’s.
“Being young, having two little ones at home, I wanted to live and I thought that would give me the best chance,” she said. “It was a difficult decision, but it was one I felt I could live with mentally and physically.”
Despite her fear, Forlizzi said it was a blessing to have had her children with her throughout her diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
“It really gave me a focus,” she said. “To keep my focus off having breast cancer and more on them.”
Her husband was incredibly supportive, she said.
“He’s been so great with the kids, and just so positive about everything,” she said.
After the surgery, Forlizzi did not need chemotherapy or radiation. She later had breast reconstructive surgery with Dr. David Wages, a plastic surgeon, at Beverly Hospital. She hasn’t had a problem since.
She has, however, been able to use her experience to help others. In addition to easing the minds of her patients, she was able to support her mother during her own breast cancer diagnosis. Forlizzi has since been tested for the BRCA gene, a hereditary breast-cancer causing gene, but does not have it.
She’s celebrating her 25th anniversary by taking part in Lorraine Roy Designer Collections’ upcoming Illusions fashion event, a fundraiser for breast cancer research. Forlizzi is one of 12 breast cancer survivors modeling trench coats that will be raffled off, with proceeds going to the Breast Oncology Program at Mass General Hospital North Shore Medical Center.
When faced with her own diagnosis, Forlizzi recalls praying that she would live to see her children make it to kindergarten.
“As milestones progress, it was like bargaining with God,” she said.
And she got what she bargained for — her son is a lawyer in her husband’s private practice in Danvers, and her daughter is a prosecutor in Lawrence.
“I’m blessed,” she said. “Every day I wake up it’s a blessing.”
Cheryl Lecesse can be reached at 978-338-2664 or firstname.lastname@example.org.