Cincy Chic: Where were you in life when you were diagnosed?
Gwen Pietzuch: I was 47 years old and went in for my annual mammogram. I was contacted the next day by my OB/GYN and she indicated that they saw what they believed to be micro calcifications, which are nothing to worry about 80 percent of the time. However, she wanted me to go back in for some additional x-rays. My re-scheduled appointment was for Sept 11, 2002, which should have been my first clue that all might not go well! I married for the first time when I was 44 years old. So, at the time of my diagnosis, my husband Ed and I had only been married for three and a half years. What bothered me the most was that Ed had lost his sister to breast cancer in 1991, and I hated to see him have to go through it again.
Cincy Chic: What was your fight with cancer like?
Pietzuch: I cant say that I felt that it was a fight. My faith is very strong, and I remember sending up a quick prayer the moment after I received my diagnosis. Not to be healed, but that this was going to be something bigger than me, more than I can handle and that I needed God to be with me throughout this ordeal. I can honestly say, from that moment on, I had an indescribable sense of peace, which has remained with me ever since my diagnosis.
I think when anyone is faced with challenges or obstacles, you have choices to make, and those choices determine how you will weather the storm. I chose to take one day at a time, because with treatments, surgery, doctors appointments, etc., you can become very overwhelmed and cancer can consume your life. I chose not to let that happen. My biggest challenge was that due to the fact that my mom died of a very rare type of cancer at the young age of 51, my oncologist suggested that I enroll in a hereditary study to determine whether or not I had a mutation of the BRCAI or BRCAII gene. After coming home from my second chemo treatment, on Christmas Eve morning, I received a call from the Barrett Cancer Center informing me that I did, in fact, have a mutation of the BRCAII gene. I knew that as a result of this test, I was going to have to have a bi-lateral mastectomy and a complete hysterectomy. I felt like this was at least one third of my entire body! Following the completion of eight chemo treatments, we scheduled all surgery to be done on June 3, 2003.
Throughout my treatments and surgery, I met so many wonderful people, and constantly had the loving support from my family, friends, co-workers and church family. Its something I would never give back. If someone told me that I could go back in time and not have breast cancer, I dont think that I would, because there was so much good that came from the experience.
Cincy Chic: How are you different since you were diagnosed?
Pietzuch: I dont think that I take life for granted I realize that everyone dies, but when you hear that you have cancer, you realize – maybe for the first time – that you are not immortal and you may die from this disease. It makes you want to really live life to its fullest, find a purpose for your life and fulfill that purpose. You hear the expression, dont sweat the small stuff and although that may be easier said than done, you do tend to prioritize things in life a bit more than before.
Cincy Chic: What does being a breast cancer survivor mean to you?
Pietzuch: I have a strength that comes from within. I always knew that I had that, but hadnt really called upon it until I was diagnosed. That cant be taken away from me, regardless of circumstances. Faith is a gift, and Im glad that I have chosen to accept the gift of faith. When I look at my scars, I see them as blessings, because for now, Im still here.