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Life after cancer? Bring it on…

It was February 2013, and Sandra Pearson will never forget the words she heard on the other end of the telephone. "We are sorry to inform you that the test results are positive."

She had breast cancer. A couple of weeks earlier, her doctor had discovered a lump in Sandra’s breast. At the suggestion of her good friend, Sandra went to Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven where she met with Anees Chagpar, MD, director of the Breast Center at Smilow for an exam and more testing.

Sandra recalls her first thoughts. This can’t be... I have two children... I run a daycare center... I have lots of people depending on me... I can’t have cancer.

The morning after that life-changing phone call, Sandra, along with six supportive family members, headed into Smilow to talk about next steps. "First, Dr. Chagpar hugged me. She comforted me. Then, she explained what my test results revealed. She took her time, drew pictures and diagrams, answered questions and explained possible scenarios. Dr. Chagpar was so patient and attentive that she made me feel as if I was her one and only patient."

Next steps would include four months of chemotherapy, then surgery to remove the tumor followed by radiation treatments. Although Sandra had been warned that chemotherapy would be tough, she was not prepared for how traumatic the effects would be for her. Her hair came out, her fingernails turned black, her facial features changed and she was constantly exhausted.

"It was a really tough time," Sandra recalled. "I had to stop working. I lost all of my self-esteem and was depressed." She explained how her parents and sister stepped in to help care for her and her teenage children and is sure to mention that her support group also included her "prayer warriors" of extended family members and clergy.

Sandra met oncologist Erin Hofstatter, MD and began chemo treatments at Smilow. "She was equally as patient and caring," she commented. "I quickly began to see why appointments with the physicians often went overtime. They really took the time to talk with me and maybe even more importantly, let me talk. And ask questions. Never in my life had I had doctors ask ‘What can I do for you?’ For me."

"I can’t express how much that support meant to me. And I have no doubt that their positive attitudes and constant encouragement helped in my recovery," she said.

After chemo treatments ended, Dr. Chagpar performed Sandra’s surgery in September 2013. By the end of the month, her hair started growing back. That was a changing point where things started to look up.

It was during this tough stage that Sandra also met with Denise Armstrong, YNHH social worker. "To say she was my rock is an understatement," said Sandra. "She saw me at my worst and helped me to ‘snap out of it.’ You’re winning this thing Sandra – you’re a winner," she told me.

Surgery was followed by radiation for two months with Suzanne Evans, MD, radiation oncologist, who Sandra also described as "phenomenal."

Now, about a year after her diagnosis, Sandra is going strong. She continues to visit YNHH for follow-up treatments. She has a new job as a paraprofessional for a first-grade class in the local school system, works out at the gym every day and spends quality time with her 17- and 15-year-old teens and says she is feeling better than ever.

"Smilow is more than a hospital. The professionals who cared for me are like my extended family – they took part in healing my body and getting me back on my feet," said Sandra said.

"Having cancer actually gave me new life," Sandra explained "Things that I thought were going to be impossible are now possible. I’ve got a new life, a new job, new hair and a brand new outlook for the future. God is mighty, because he along with the doctors at Yale New Haven Hospital gave me a second chance at life. I’m so excited!"