Gina Lacey had “divine intervention” from a caring woman who led her on a path to early-stage breast cancer detection
“The strangest thing happened to me,” Gina Lacey, 53, said.
Gina was in a nail salon in New Milford, Connecticut. She and the woman next to her were trying to figure out how they knew each other.
“I asked her where she worked and then it clicked,” Gina said.
The woman worked at the Breast Center at Danbury, where Gina got screening mammograms.
“She mentioned how she hadn’t seen me in a while and said I should come in for a screening,” Gina said.
But then life happened and several months passed.
Gina had recently opened a vintage shop in New Milford called The Hunt.
“I couldn’t believe it when she walked into my shop one day! She remembered me again and said she still hadn’t seen me for a screening mammogram. She said she wasn’t going to leave until I booked an appointment,” Gina said.
“I called on a Friday, and they got me in the following Monday,” Gina said.
Breast cancer diagnosis
Gina was nervous about getting a routine mammogram because she has dense breasts. She has had breast ultrasounds and biopsies in the past.
“When the radiologist said I needed to have a biopsy, I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ ” Gina said.
“But when I went for the biopsy, I had a sense something was different this time,” Gina said. “I cried, and I’m not a crier. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I think this time is for real.’ ”
In April 2022, Gina was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in her right breast.
“Talk about serendipity,” Gina said about the woman she saw in the nail salon and then again in her shop. “I don’t know her name, and she doesn’t work there anymore, but I’ll never forget her.”
“I first thought about my kids when I was diagnosed. I’m usually an overthinker and think about worst-case scenarios,” Gina said. “This time, I said to myself, ‘Don’t freak out,’ and decided to listen to what my care team was saying and focus on the science behind it.”
Breast cancer treatment
“When I found out I had breast cancer, I just wanted it out,” Gina said.
The Breast Center at Danbury connected Gina with Johanna Lee, a breast nurse navigator at the Danbury Hospital Praxair Cancer Center.
“Johanna was my angel on earth. She scheduled all my appointments and figured things out with my insurance company,” Gina said.
Related content: Navigators, social workers and therapists are here for you
Gina’s first appointment was with breast surgeon Dr. Carinne Anderson.
“Dr. Anderson clearly explained everything every step of the way,” Gina said.
Dr. Anderson, chief of breast surgery at Danbury Hospital, performed a nipple-sparing partial mastectomy, also called a lumpectomy. The nipple-sparing technique is a type of oncoplastic surgery. Oncoplastic surgery combines operating to remove the cancer while also achieving the best possible cosmetic outcome.
“While it’s critically important to remove the cancer and achieve clear margins (the area surrounding the tumor), it’s also very important to consider what a patient’s breast will look like after surgery,” Dr. Anderson said. “I removed a large area of tissue to treat the cancer but was able to save Gina’s breast. At Nuvance Health, breast surgeons work closely with plastic surgeons when patients like Gina need reconstructive surgery.”
Thankfully, the breast cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes. Gina was able to go home the same day she had surgery.
Gina had reconstructive surgery with Dr. Gregory Brucato. She had her left breast size reduced to match the right side.
Gina had genetic testing that showed she does not have a genetic predisposition to breast cancer.
After surgery, Gina had radiation therapy at the New Milford Hospital Diebold Cancer Center. She had treatment Monday through Friday for five weeks.
“For some reason, radiation treatments were the most difficult emotionally because they were daily,” Gina said.
“New Milford Hospital was amazing, they treated me like family the moment I walked in,” Gina said.
Gina tolerated radiation therapy well.
“Cindy was awesome and gave me great advice on how to manage side effects and stay healthy during radiation,” Gina said about Radiation Oncology Nurse Cindy Moschitta.
“They gave me a voucher for a meal every time after radiation,” Gina said. “It really took the pressure off worrying about food.”
Gina was able to have Plow to Plate meals made fresh at New Milford Hospital with ingredients sourced from local farms.
Gina will take hormone therapy for the next five to 10 years to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back.
“Treatments compared to dying weren’t that bad,” Gina said.
“One of the biggest difficulties during cancer treatment was balancing the need for support while also preserving my independence.”
Gina welcomed support from her kids and partner at the time. She was also surprised by some unexpected support she received.
“I was able to hire employees to help run my shop and merchants stopped in to help,” Gina said. “I’m part of a group of women in business in downtown New Milford. They delivered meals to my house after I had surgery. They run businesses and cook amazing meals; they were so yummy.”
How to deal with breast cancer
Gina is sharing her story to encourage others to get screened for breast cancer. And also to help others going through breast cancer.
“When I was ready to share that I had breast cancer, I said in a post on Facebook: ‘One in eight women will get breast cancer. Today, I’m the one.’ ” Gina said.
“I know many women who are afraid to ‘get squished.’ But don’t delay your annual mammogram. It might be scary, but just go for it; take care of yourself.”
For anyone newly diagnosed with breast cancer, Gina said, “I was scared at first, but it helps to know you can take care of it with your care team.”
Gina appreciated all the help and support she received from family, friends and the business community.
To offer a piece of advice to those who care about someone going through breast cancer she said, “Be a good listener rather than provide unsolicited advice.
“People responded so differently to me having cancer. Some people tried to take over, some people needed to be consoled themselves,” Gina said.
To those going through breast cancer, “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need,” Gina said.
Life after breast cancer
Today, Gina said she is looking forward to “making a million more memories with my kids.” She has a son, 22, and a daughter, 20. She is also looking forward to being outside, hiking, walking and doing home projects.
She also loves thrift shopping.
“I’m obsessed with thrifting because I never know what I’ll find; it’s the thrill of the hunt,” Gina said.
“I’m also just happy to be able to sit outside on my porch in the sunshine with my dog,” Gina said.
While Gina was always healthy, she said having breast cancer has helped her focus on eating well, exercising, and “doing as much as possible to spend as much time as possible on Earth.
“Looking back, everything was a blur,” Gina said. “I just powered through and tried to roll with the punches.”
Gina mainly wanted to make sure her kids’ lives did not change in any way and for them to know that she was going to “kick cancer’s butt.”
“I tried to stay super positive, because I didn’t want to appear weak to anyone,” Gina said. “I realized my own personal strength during that time.”
Disclaimer: Outcomes from cancer vary from person to person. No individual results should be seen as typical.