Seanna DiStefano has always been disciplined about her health, nutrition and physical fitness regimen.
Highly in tune with her body, she’s been an avid CrossFit devotee in her 30s and 40s
But a family history of breast cancer demanded vigilance.
Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 65, so DiStefano started conversations with caregivers early and had her first mammogram when she was in her mid-30s.
A small change was detected in 2017, when DiStefano, who lives in Seabrook, was 47. A biopsy revealed precancerous cells. Her primary care physician referred her to breast surgeon specialist Dr. Peter Hartmann at the Gerrish Breast Care Center at Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport.
Hartmann performed an initial surgery that revealed cancer in a ductal area. During a second procedure to remove additional tissue, he discovered invasive cancer in the pectoral muscles at the back of her breast.
DiStefano recalls the day Hartmann called to inform her that she had cancer and would need surgery. She was in her car, on the way to a Hallmark store for an errand.
After taking some time in the car to compose herself, she entered the store and saw a bracelet that read, “Don’t fear the fire, become it.”
Being a spiritual person, she was struck by the twist of fate. It was a message she interpreted as preparing her for the next steps in her journey. It became a mantra for DiStefano and her care team.
DiStefano was able to receive all of her treatment locally. She underwent three months of chemotherapy at the Anna Jaques Cancer Center affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, followed by radiation therapy in January and February 2018 supervised by Dr. Claire Fung of Alliance Oncology.
Now cancer-free and on a hormone therapy regimen, she continues to see her oncologist and rotates between a mammogram and an MRI every six months.
She is grateful for the support she continues to receive from her partner of 20 years, her family and from her employer, Cigna, whose colleagues encouraged her to share her story as part of her healing process. Professionally, DiStefano educates employers on the importance of preventive health care. She now routinely uses her personal cancer journey to emphasize that mammograms matter and has become a keynote speaker at workplace wellness conferences.
Prior to the arrival of the coronavirus, DiStefano was also a volunteer for Hope Lodge, a nonprofit organization run by the American Cancer Society that provides accommodations for patients undergoing treatment away from home. The lodge is temporarily closed.
DiStefano urges women not to neglect critical cancer screenings, even during the more challenging times of the pandemic. She said early detection through a mammogram helped to discover her cancer, offering her the best possible chance for survival.
“You must be your own advocate, ask questions, take control and develop strong, open relationships with your doctors so you can make the most informed decisions,” she said.