Cancer

Woman honors mom’s memory by beating breast cancer and living the beach life

Nancy Grasso had breast cancer surgery at Vassar Brothers Medical Center

5/4/2022

Nancy Grasso had a mastectomy to treat breast cancer at Vassar Brothers Medical Center

 

Nancy Grasso, 65, had a visceral feeling she had cancer when she felt a marble-sized lump in her right breast. She lost her beloved mom to breast cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer when she was about the same age.

 

“My mom was too young, only 67, when she died from cancer,” said Nancy. “I panicked when I felt the lump because I remember what my mom went through and it greatly affected me.”

 

“Even though I was not totally surprised I had breast cancer, the reality of it still hit me hard.”

 

Nancy had a diagnostic mammogram at Danbury Hospital, where a radiologist recommended she also have a biopsy that same day. A pathologist reviewed the tissue sample and confirmed Nancy had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS is an early stage of breast cancer that does not usually form a noticeable lump.

 

Nancy was about to retire and relocate from New Milford, Connecticut to Delray Beach, Florida when breast cancer halted her plans.

 

“Even though I was not totally surprised I had breast cancer, the reality of it still hit me hard,” said Nancy. “I felt terrible and my future plans stopped.”

 

“I was scared beyond belief because I saw what my mom went through,” said Nancy. I was also dreading telling my adult children I had breast cancer because I did not want them to feel sad. They of course wanted to know so they could support me, but as a parent, I always put them first.”

 

“I knew my mindset could not change the fact that I had breast cancer, but it could have a big impact on how I dealt with it.”

 

The memory of Nancy’s dad and mom helped her overcome the initial angst she felt.

 

“My parents — especially my mom — had very positive attitudes,” said Nancy who still wears a sweater her mom knitted her almost 30 years ago. “I knew my mindset could not change the fact that I had breast cancer, but it could have a big impact on how I dealt with it.”

 

Nancy’s dad was a physician and her mom was a nurse. In addition to having a positive mindset, she focused on finding the best breast cancer care possible because that is what they would have done.

 

“My dad always said, ‘You have to find the best doctors and have confidence in them.’ After doing my research, I knew without a doubt that I wanted Dr. Boolbol to be my surgeon,” said Nancy.

 

Dr. Susan K. Boolbol is the system chief of breast surgical oncology and breast program at Nuvance Health.

 

From her research, Nancy had confidence in Dr. Boolbol’s breast surgical oncology skills. Her confidence grew after meeting Dr. Boolbol.

 

“Dr. Boolbol’s skills go much deeper than surgery. She spent time with me and truly understood me. I felt completely and deeply supported,” said Nancy.

 

Nancy wore a Delray Beach t-shirt to her first appointment with Dr. Boolbol.

 

“Dr. Boolbol said I would get to Delray Beach and I believed her,” said Nancy. “I felt like I could trust everything she was telling me because she exuded confidence. I valued her recommendations every step of the way.”

 

“I felt happy after surgery, and I was not in pain.”

 

Nancy had a mastectomy to remove the entire right breast at Vassar Brothers Medical Center. She had surgery in the morning and was able to go home that evening.

 

“I felt happy after surgery, and I was not in pain,” said Nancy. “Then, my children and husband took charge and supported me.”

 

Nancy said she was pulling three-foot high weeds out of her garden just a few weeks after surgery.

 

Nancy decided not to have breast reconstruction.

 

“My mom did not have breast reconstruction after her mastectomies. And my dad had always believed less was better,” said Nancy. “So I did not want more surgery than I needed to have. Dr. Boolbol, my husband and kids were very supportive.”

 

“You cannot finish a puzzle without every piece carefully placed correctly.”

(Left to right) Dr. Susan Boolbol, Nancy Grasso and Nurse Navigator Cheryl Hoffman
(Left to right) Dr. Susan Boolbol, Nancy Grasso and Nurse Navigator Cheryl Hoffman

 

Nancy was able to receive all her medical and supportive care at the Dyson Center for Cancer Care.

 

Nancy did not need radiation therapy. A specialist from her comprehensive care team, Dr. Radhika Rachamalla, medical oncologist and medical director of the Dyson Center for Cancer Care, recommended she take an oral chemotherapy for about five years to reduce the risk of a recurrence.

 

Nancy also had genetic testing and was relieved to learn she did not have a known gene mutation that might increase her or her children’s cancer risk.

 

Nancy had outpatient physical therapy and occupational therapy and regained full range of motion with her right arm.

 

Nancy learned about the role of nutrition and reducing breast cancer risk. She now follows a plant-based diet, eats red meat in moderation, and avoids alcohol and excessive sugar.

 

The collaborative team at the Dyson Breast Center at Vassar Brothers Medical Center included nurse navigator Cheryl Hoffman.

 

“Having a nurse navigator was wonderful. Cheryl guided me through my entire breast cancer journey,” said Nancy. “I am convinced my mom’s experience would have been better if nurse navigators were available at that time.”

 

“You cannot finish a puzzle without every piece carefully placed correctly. Cheryl seamlessly coordinated everything,” said Nancy.

 

Living the beach life: “I feel enthusiastic and fabulous.”

 

Today, Nancy said, “I feel enthusiastic and fabulous.”

 

Plus, “I can barely see my scar,” she said.

 

Nancy is living a sunny, new chapter of her life in Delray Beach.

 

She spends quality time with her daughter, an art teacher.

 

She loves playing pickleball and painting on the beach. Art is a lifelong passion of hers, inspired by her grandfather who was an illustrator and painter and published fashion drawings in the New York Times.

 

Nancy Grasso playing pickleball
Nancy Grasso playing pickleball

Nancy Grasso painting on the beach
Nancy Grasso painting on the beach

 

Nancy is grateful her dad passed along his medical knowhow, and her mom inspired her positive mindset and strength to overcome breast cancer.

 

She is also grateful for her daughter, son and daughter-in-law, grandchildren and husband of nearly 50 years for their ongoing support.

 

Finally, she is thankful for the care she received in Poughkeepsie, New York.

 

“My family and I believe I healed so well because of Dr. Boolbol, Cheryl and everyone at the Dyson Breast Center,” said Nancy.

 

Nancy continued, “I went from being a scared, nervous wreck and thinking I would be leaving this world without time to enjoy retirement, to realizing my happy goals, fulfilling my dream to live in Florida and doing what many retirees do — enjoy living!”

 

Do you want to learn more about breast care services at the Nuvance Health Cancer Institute? Go here.

 

Disclaimer: Treatment and outcome for cancer varies from person to person. No individual results should be seen as typical.