By Gina Martinez
Marisa Storer had an ideal life. The Bayside resident worked as a real estate agent alongside her husband and was raising her teenage son, when one day everything changed. Storer was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Four years ago Storer decided to go to the hospital for a routine checkup. Almost immediately the doctors suggested a mammogram and that is when she knew it was bad, with her first thought “this can’t be happening.”
“I was always superwoman,” she said. “You know how some people get the mumps, the measles. I had nothing. I would get colds but no big deal. Then when I felt something, I still felt like this couldn’t be happening.”
Storer was diagnosed that February after a series of tests revealed the breast cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
“You know,” she said. “You say its OK, but then reality hits. I always said, it can’t be, but it was and it is. I was lucky. I had the best doctors and I’m so thankful.”
Storer went to Northwell Health, formerly North Shore/Long Island Jewish, on the Nassau border and it was decided she would have a mastectomy to remove one breast. Storer said the doctors were incredibly supportive but that still did not make the process any easier.
“It was just surreal,” she said. “So it can be very dark, but I was always so firm that I’m too strong to give in, my thing is today is better than yesterday and tomorrow is going to be so much better.”
After her mastectomy came the chemotherapy, which she said was the most difficult part. The chemo sessions were once a week for a year. Chemo made Storer weak and it was the first time in her life she had to rely on others, but she still pulled through and eventually was able to return to work at East Coast Realtors as the treatments continued.
“I’m a realtor, so if I don’t work, I don’t produce. My son is used to his mom driving him to school and I couldn’t get up out of bed. I didn’t have enough energy to run the errands. You take for granted all the things you do everyday, but you still fight. I’m a true believer that your mind rules your body. My glass is always full, I always think you move forward. I tried to work through my whole year of chemo, it was very hard but I had a lot of loyal clients.”
Her doctors at Northwell also made her life less stressful. Chemo has a reputation for making people vomit and nauseated, but she said her doctors helped her avoid it.
“It didn’t happen because you were taught that if you don’t feel well, tell the doctor,” she said. “I would tell the nurse, and each time there was a remedy for every symptom. I never threw up, I never had migraines. I was very tired but you have to communicate.”
Northwell also provided her with a reflexologist when she started losing feeling in her fingertips after chemo. After every chemo session her feet and hands were massaged, helping to bring back some feeling.
One other huge help was the American Cancer Society. The organization reached out to Storer, offering to take her son to summer camp and offering to drive her to chemo when her husband was at work.
“They provided me a wig when I couldn’t pay for one,” she said. “The surgical bras were very ugly and so they sent me one as a present with a little lace, just so I could feel a little more human, a little more myself. Who does this? It’s unbelievable how they care. They even offered to send someone to help me with housework, because I couldn’t really do much.”
It’s now three years later and Storer has to return to the doctor every six months for a routine blood test that determines whether or not the cancer has returned.
“I always say please let there not be anything,” she said. “God, let it be fine. That stress, that tension is terrible, but you always have to be positive. I’m never going to let it get to me.”
Storer likes to see the silver lining. One positive that has come out of this experience is that she is currently participating in a trial that has the potential to help millions. Storer is HER 2 positive. HER2 (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) is a gene that can play a role in the development of breast cancer.
“I am now part of a metaformin trial,” she said, “which is a medication they use for diabetes. They say it prevents breast cancer, so I’m part of this trial where I don’t know if I’m taking the actual metaformin or a placebo. I’m hoping to help women in the future like myself not have breast cancer, because it might be able to be prevented with a simple pill. I’m part of a very important trial. My feeling is that you have to give back, you have to try to help, try to prevent.”
Although she still is waiting for the five-year clearance date, Storer said she feels blessed to have made it pass the hardest times and wakes up everyday with a new outlook. She said what helped her survive was the thought that she couldn’t give up because she had too much to live for. She is back to work and while her life has changed, she feels like herself again.
Her motto is simple looking forward: “If you are convinced you’re gonna make it, you’re gonna make it.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart