"I am and will continue to be a breast cancer survivor." Sandra Bessacini says these words with conviction. It's been a long journey to get to this point. When Bessacini first learned she had breast cancer, she says she was completely stunned. This wasn't supposed to happen to her.
The sense of stricken surprise did not come from a sense of being beyond the reach of misfortune; it came simply from a pragmatism that just looked at the odds. No one in Bessacini's family had cancer. She worried about heart disease and other conditions, but not cancer. Being the first in her family to hear that life-changing diagnosis threw her.
But once she overcame the initial shock, she asked herself: Where do I go from here? Fortunately, no one among her family and friends had experienced cancer. Without first-hand advice, she discussed her situation with her husband and family. Together they decided that it would be best to look to those who have daily, ongoing experience treating many women with breast cancer. That place was the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Rhode Island Hospital.
Of that crucial decision Bessacini says, "It was the first and best decision that we made." From that point, she allowed herself to be cared for and guided by the staff at the center. Without exception, she says, they were warm, helpful and caring, from the person who greeted her upon arrival to her surgeon.
Bessacini was told that the rapidly growing cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, and treatment would require chemotherapy and surgery, followed by radiation and medication. Despite it being a very difficult time, throughout the process the staff made her feel she was part of a family and was valued by all of them.
Bessacini says that her patient navigator, Esther, saw her and her family through the entire process, and was kind, compassionate and always available, at any time of the day or night. Her nurse, Maria, saw her every visit and was just wonderful. During one visit Maria suspected a problem and, after additional testing, immediately had her admitted to the hospital for five days. Had Maria not been so attuned and concerned, Bessacini believes she might not have been treated in such a timely manner.
Speaking about the ordeal of chemotherapy and losing her hair, Bessacini is warmly upbeat, saying it couldn't have gone better. The staff was patient with her questions, and created a friendly, familial environment, showing nothing but kindness every step of the way. She says that it was a very trying time and it was very important to have that kindness and care.
Bessacini says that even though Rhode Island Hospital is such a large hospital, the staff she met were warm, compassionate and positive. She says the hospital may be very big, but all the staff that make up that big hospital really want the very best for you.
Today she is taking medication, and will need to continue with medication for five years. Aside from this treatment to safeguard against future disease, Bessacini has resumed her normal routine, but with a new perspective. She realized at one point that she has a new understanding…a new appreciation of life. She says that now she doesn't think of the "big picture" so much, but rather relishes the present, and advises "anything that distracts from what really matters, you deal with it and move on."
Cancer brought her life into sharp focus, and taught her to appreciate all that she has. In particular, Bessacini is grateful for her six-year-old granddaughter, her joy in life. And Bessacini is grateful for all the treatments she received at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, because that is what makes it possible for her to be there for her granddaughter and her family for a long time to come.
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