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My Story - Theresa Keresztes, Breast Cancer Survivor

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  • I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2007, after the birth of my second child, a son. My family and I were preparing to leave on a trip to Hungary. The doctor found something questionable, and told me that he thought it was breast cancer. I subsequently got a second opinion from the team at Massachusetts General Hospital which confirmed the diagnosis.

    In October, I started my treatment with a lumpectomy and radiation followed in January. Luckily, I was able to find a spot in a day care program for my five-month old son. I felt thankful that I had found someone I trusted to take care of him. Two weeks into my radiation therapy, my skin started to burn. It was itchy and bumpy, and seemed about to break open. None of the creams that I tried were working, so my husband suggested that I try a skin cream I discovered in Hungary that contained calendula and rose hips, natural anti-inflammatory herbs which I later used to sooth radiation-induced dermatitis. After using it for four days, my burn had faded into a tan and my skin felt soft and moisturized. I was so impressed that I shared the product with my team at Mass Gen, and after talking with them, I decided to refine the cream to meet breast cancer patients’ needs.

    My mother got breast cancer at 72, and in the back of my head I always knew that the same thing could happen to me. I started getting mammograms at 35 because my doctor suggested there could be a genetic link. My cancer was caught very early, but it was still a shock to me. I had to lean against the wall to take it all in. I never thought I would have cancer so early. I was angry about my diagnosis, and didn’t talk to many people about it, which was a mistake. You should try to reach out to someone with a similar diagnosis to yourself and talk to them about what to expect. Something that did help me though that I recommend to anyone, is to do one thing that you’ve always wanted to do; do something different you wouldn’t normally do. I started running around this beautiful lake for at least twenty minutes every day. I ended up meeting a group of women who helped me develop a love of running that led to me running the Boston Marathon in 2016. But the biggest thing was the camaraderie and laughter I shared with those women. It’s so important to laugh every day. However, the biggest thing when you’re coming to terms with your diagnosis is to put your faith in something. Have faith that God will take care of you. My spirituality got me through the really tough spots, especially my belief in His ability to take care of us.

    The other place I drew support was through my family. I tend to bury myself in work when crisis hits, and with two kids under four at the time of my diagnosis, I had plenty of work to do. Once I decided to launch my skin cream business, there was even more. I didn’t have time to think about my diagnosis or focus on myself. The kids didn’t even know I was sick until a few years later when a neighbor commented on a newspaper article about my journey to my son.

    Treatment can be difficult on many different levels. The side effects of radiation therapy are cumulative, so try to get plenty of rest from the beginning. Sleep will help keep your mood up. I also tried to get outside every day, and socialize with people to help keep me positive. You should also prep your skin before receiving radiation so it’s strong and not overly dry. Start moisturizing at least two weeks prior, and don’t put on any topical agents four hours before treatment begins. It intensifies the beam.

    I trusted my doctors completely in my treatment plan, and didn’t ask too many questions as I was just so scared. In hindsight, I should have brought a friend or family member with me to help absorb the information. Yet, I was in good hands and I knew it because everyone was so caring. When I finished my radiation therapy, I was supposed to go on tamoxifen because I was at risk for recurrence in my other breast. I dragged my feet a bit because I knew that it would send me into early menopause, and I was still young. My doctor called me up, and went through all the risks with me personally because he was worried about me. I went and filled the prescription and as of today, I’m not receiving any treatment. I’m still very involved in my skin cream company, and pass out 25,000 samples every year to radiation departments. People sometimes call me with questions about the cream, but what they really want is reassurance from someone whose gone through what they’re going through. I hope to launch spa and therapeutic massage getaways for people who are newly diagnosed and for those who are finishing up treatment as I find happiness and purpose in comforting people.

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