Meet Heidi Quero: Breast Cancer Survivor
Heidi Quero, a wife and mother of two, sent her oldest off to college recently.
He’s in Florida now, a long way from his parents and sister in Rhode Island. Quero shared that she’s never experienced the amount of worry that has accompanied this milestone. Not even when she was diagnosed with a microinvasive carcinoma of the right breast in May 2020.
She’s cancer-free now. Had she not kept up with her annual mammogram screenings, even during the height of a developing coronavirus pandemic, the 45-year-old’s life may have turned a different corner.
Quero described her reaction when her physician’s office called with her mammogram results. They had brought her back for a second round of imaging, which she chalked up to something gone wonky with the first. When she was told the results, she remembered feeling as though she was being swallowed by the floor. “Everything was going so fast. I didn’t know where to start, what to do.” As soon as she hung up, she called a woman she had recently gotten to know through mutual friends: Carol Anthony, RTRM, mammography technician, at The Miriam Hospital.
“Every patient responds differently when they receive their diagnosis,” Anthony noted. “Heidi is an organizer and planner by nature, so she required facts, data, options, and worst-case scenarios.”
Quero trusted Anthony with her life. “Carol took me under her wing,” Quero said. “Lifespan was not on my radar. Carol lives for this. It’s why she was put on earth.” Anthony recommended an appointment with the Anne C. Pappas Center for Breast Imaging where she had been a manager.
Family History of Cancer
This wasn’t the first cancer challenge Quero faced. Some eight years prior, she had a Level 2 malignant melanoma on her right side that was treated successfully. Her late grandfather battled multiple types of cancer, including prostate. Her father has survived both prostate cancer and lymphoma. And, an aunt diagnosed with breast cancer has been cancer free for more than 20 years. Once she got her own breast cancer diagnosis, Quero opted for genetic testing. It revealed that she did not carry the BRCA gene mutation that was prevalent in her family history.
In June of 2020, Charu Taneja, MD, an affiliated surgical oncologist in the high-risk breast program at the Women's Medicine Collaborative and assistant professor of surgery at The Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University performed a lumpectomy on Quero’s right breast. At a time when COVID-19 health and safety restrictions prevented patients and their families from being together pre- and post-surgery, Quero was never alone. “I loved my radiation technicians and nurses, and Dr. Taneja’s office was amazing,” Quero said. “I’m so grateful to them.”
A Sucker for All Things Pink
Following her breast cancer diagnosis, Quero became involved with the Gemma Foundation through Anthony, a committed volunteer. In 2021, she carried a torch during the Flames of Hope celebration. In 2022, she will do it again with her aunt alongside.
“I’m a sucker for all things pink,” Quero said, acknowledging the official color synonymous with the annual Breast Cancer Awareness month held every October. “I love the event and everything it represents,” she said. “The Gemma Foundation offers so many services to support women and their families battling breast cancer – this is my way of supporting those efforts.”
Quero shared that she has a difficult time thinking of herself as a cancer survivor. “I didn’t have it that bad. I’m on the other end now. I have imposter syndrome – do I even deserve to call myself a cancer survivor?”
Anthony believes otherwise. “Heidi compares herself to those with more serious cases and does not give herself the credit that she deserves,” she said. “Some survivors do not want to be identified by their breast cancer and want to keep it in the past. Some find strength through connecting with each other and lending support. Heidi has become empowered by her diagnosis and feels strongly that if her story or experience can help someone else, she wants to give back.”