Amber Marchese, star of The Real Housewives of New Jersey , is blogging about her second battle with cancer for PEOPLE. After surviving breast cancer in 2009, she discovered a lump, which turned out to be cancerous, in her right breast in April. Marchese will share updates on her treatment and how she is coping with this second round of the deadly disease with prayer, a positive outlook and the help of her family.
Hello beautiful friends and family!! As I reread my blog last week I realized I have a little confession to make. Not one week from writing in my blog about “not extracting true happiness from material belongings,” I turn to Jim and said, “I’m done with this home, I want a bigger home and on the water!” Yup, blurted right out how “this is not my dream home” in front of several good friends over dinner. I had another relapse, but this one had nothing too due with my health, thank God. I immediately realized what a brat I sounded like when I saw the appalled look on my friends’ faces. We all started to crack up, and heads were shaking that that came out of my mouth. After all, I was picked for Real Housewives of New Jersey for a reason.
My friend says that there are “like 30 different Ambers inside my head.” He jokes around, saying, “Amber number 12 has come out to play today or is this number 8?” I have to agree with him. My father was the same way. There is: cowgirl Amber, farmer Amber, surfer Amber, metropolitan Amber, mommy mode Amber, party mode Amber, 80’s rock-star Amber, classical jazz Amber, hip/hop and R&B Amber, RHONJ Amber, Devout Christian Amber, Amber the good wife, Amber the bad wife, and the list goes on. I call it a passion for life and a drive to try out all flavors of life. Honestly, there is not much about life I do not like. I welcome all walks of life, all cultures, and all various types of people.
In the Catholic/Christian Church they say, “come as you are.” I love saying that because that is how I live my life. Just come as you are and I’m going to love you as you are. I may not understand everyone, nor will everyone understand me – hell, my husband does not even understand me sometimes – but I accept people the way they are. We all need to have tolerance for all different walks of life. That is what makes America great. We live in a country with so many different nationalities, faiths and cultures. Embrace them all, even when you don’t understand it, even when it is in complete contrast to your beliefs. At the end of our lives, none of it really matters, only the energy, light and love we lived with matters.
Back to my crazy day. As I said, I was on a marathon seeing all of my physicians in one day. First up in my line up was to see my breast surgeon, Dr. Thomas Kearny. Dr. Kearny is a tall man who is kind but tells it very matter-of-fact. As I imagined a typical surgeon to be, he is rather dry and stoic, even when talking about the most emotional occurrence in life. We begin by discussing my second of three surgeries to make sure that I had “clear margins,” or, in another words, no remaining cancer in the tissue surrounding the tumor. You might ask, “Why was this not done the first time around to avoid additional surgery?” Great question. Answer being, when the lumpectomy was done, my breast surgeon took the least amount of tissue possible. I had a really great set of new boobs from my mastectomy; he did not want mess them up! My surgery six years ago was an eight-hour surgery to remove the cancer and give me beautiful new breasts; it was called a double skin-sparring mastectomy with a TRAM flap. Dr. Kearney knows his patient well, you can call me vain, but looks matter to me. As we know, the second lump ended up being cancerous. So, he needed to perform a second surgery to remove the tissue surrounding the tumor site. The resected tissue is sent to a pathologist for examination to ensure no cancer cells remain, hence “clear margins.” The accepted surgical protocol for clearing margins surrounding a tumor of my size a margin of less than 2 mm of tissue surrounding the tumor in all directions; however this just did not sit well with Jim and me. Even though the latest studies show 2 mm is more than enough for stage 1 breast cancer patients, we were not taking any chances. There are studies with patients diagnosed with DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ) which have a lower relapse rate when the surgeon removes 10 mm of clear tissues. If you recall ,my tumor had a DCIS component.
Jim and I requested that 10 mm margins in circumference around the tumor be removed. We want to take away as much of the potentially damaged breast and skin cells as possible. Regardless of the margins, this meant a long surgery, a long recovery time and more drains hanging from my body, AGAIN! Too bad it was not around Halloween time, I could have been Doctor Octopus (from Spiderman movies) as my best friend, Christine, loves to make me giggle about. Damn, I hate missing a great photo op! With that decision made, on to my plastic surgeon.
Next up on this tour of the Cancer Institute of New Jersey was my plastic surgeon, Dr. Kevin Nini from the office of Plastic Surgery Arts of New Jersey. This visit is never a bad meeting because I usually try to conjure other procedures I could possibly do since I am, “well there.” In fact, I was scheduled for rhinoplasty the week after I found the lump but never went through with it! I believe in signs, so I thought, maybe I am not supposed to change my face. However, I much prefer how Jaqueline Laurita made me feel better about it all by saying, “no, you just were supposed to get it on that particular day!” The comment lifted my spirits up and made me feel “normal” again. Although,we were speaking of a superficial nose job, Jaqueline’s comment brought to me something so special. It took the power cancer has on me away. Cancer was not going to dictate whether I get my nose done, it may delay it, but that is about it.
Dr. Nini is very kind, personable and explains things to me in very simple terms. He has said to me more than once that he treats his patients as if they were his family member and it shows. He is exactly what I expect my plastic surgeon to be. He has impeccable taste in clothes, he is neat and precise and has a very calm demeanor. We talked about how important it is to take out all of the cancerous cells while leaving a well intact young woman.
One of the hardest things to keep in mind is after the treatments are finished we need to be happy and confident, and that means for most women liking what we see when we look in the mirror. This very big job and for me was performed by a very skilled plastic surgeon, one that has a lot of experience performing reconstructions after mastectomies. Trust me when I tell you, and please heed to my words, after the treatments are over, you will want to look in the mirror.
If you are recently diagnosed, you focus only on being cured (as you should) but care what you will look like after. The truth is over 70 percent of patients with breast cancer will live a long life and will die of a cause other than cancer. Ladies, we all care how we look those many years and how others see us. Yes, your goal is to save your life, but your mental state during and after are also important. Plus, you can find some joy in your journey. Think about it, if you have to have a s—ty surgery, why not look great after with a tune-up! Yeah, as my husband says, “Spoken like a true Real Housewife of New Jersey.” So Dr. Nini put together a plan to make sure I would be pleased with my breast post-treatment.
Next and final appointment for the day was to see Dr. Nissenblatt again. As my “quarterback” for my team, he is who makes sure all is in order and makes sure I get the best treatment for my case. You may have seen him in an episode on New Jersey Housewives with me, but in case you did not, Dr. N is a tall and slender gentleman, with an athletic build. He is quite a remarkable man. Most refer to him as a brilliant physician with a photographic memory. I see a very humble, kind man who is truly endearing. He is extremely personable, warm with a bright glowing smile on his face almost all of the time.
Before we start discussing treatments, Dr. N reminded me my PET scan “proved no detectable disease anywhere else in my body” and that “the new tumor was located exactly between the first two located and noted as 8 o’clock on the right breast.” He reiterated it was located near the edge of the breast, as the other two had been, it seemed more likely that a third cancer had developed. For it would be too coincidental for a “random” recurrence to have developed in that specific location”, he said, further explaining that “the original surgery was skin-sparing and preserved the skin around the breast. The skin around the breast has a small amount of (invisible) breast tissue which may be attached to its inside surface and be capable of undergoing the same events which had caused the original two, closely placed, breast cancers.”
I was relieved that it was not a failure of treatment that resulted in a recurrence. If that was the case, it would seem to me that my tumor was chemotherapy resistant. However, it also made me very unsettled with the fact that what the breast cells remaining underwent the “same event which caused the original two tumors to grow.” What is going on with my breasts that are making this happen? And will I be putting out fires for the rest of my natural-born life until it actually progresses outside of the breast? Would I be starting chemotherapy again, will my hair fall out again? Will it make me ill again? My mind raced with questions and I was about to get my answers, like them or not.
I would like to pause here and save the conversation with Dr. Nissenblatt for my next blog, so stay tuned for part three on this subject. I really want to take my time with this since there is a lot of information.
I will leave you all with my advice; however, I will first answer a question that many are asking me. Did anyone from The Real Housewives of New Jersey reach out to me? The answer is, yes! Especially Melissa and Jaqueline, they have been good friends during this time. Even Melissa’s mom has reached out to me. Mrs. Marco has had me in her thoughts and prayers from the moment she heard that I was diagnosed again. Mrs. Marco is an amazing, loving mother that has done right by her girls. Okay, now onto my advice!
Stay positive, upbeat,and joyful! Don’t stop living and enjoying life. Life is beautiful even in the most difficult of times we find unexpected splendor. “So trust, so conquer, so joy. Love colors the way. Love takes the sting out of the wind of adversity” (unknown author).
Stay around friends and family that bring light and love to you. My friends and family have meant so much to me during this time. No words could describe the love and appreciation I have for them. Any descriptive word would undermine my intense love and gratitude I feel in my heart for them. They have taken a lousy day and made it beautiful and fun. They have made me forget that I even was diagnosed with cancer or any treatment plan that I was about to endure.
Until next week, God bless,