Diagnosed in April 2005 at age 32
I am the founder of 5 Under 40. At age 32 two months before my wedding, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband, Dr. Robert Fafalak felt a lump in my breast. The next day I saw Dr. Nancy Elliot who did a needle biopsy. The biopsy was positive – I had breast cancer. I was a few weeks away from my wedding day which I had dreamed of all my life, and now I faced the most devastating and shocking diagnosis.
The location of my tumor (behind the nipple) was tricky. My MRI revealed there were 2 satellite tumors branching off the main one. Dr. Nancy Elliot’s recommendation was for single mastectomy. With my wedding date fast approaching, I chose to undergo a single mastectomy. I knew I needed to prepare for the fight of my life although I had no idea how to do it. Who would have predicted I would do it in a wedding dress? My breast surgeon, Dr. Alexander J. Swistel, even wore a tuxedo to perform my mastectomy. Hidden deep beneath the black ominous clouds of cancer, I held onto the excitement and happiness of my wedding. I invited the entire operating room as they were counting down my twilight sleep.
My family was a tremendous source of support. My parents truly thrive in times of crisis and instilled me with the confidence and determination to believe that I would beat the disease. My parents and my brother, Andrew, convinced me that I would get my life back.
After my surgery, I was privileged to learn that Dr. Anne Moore would be my Oncologist. She is the Director of Weill Cornell Breast Medical Center and has been by my side for 10 years now. She was instrumental in enabling me to heal physically and emotionally. It turned out that a complete stranger would also be a driving force in changing my life. My dear friend suggested I contact her cousin, Ellen Lowey. Ellen took me under her wing the same day I contacted her and has remained one of my closest friends. She schooled me on the entire breast cancer experience. Most importantly, she arranged for us to have lunch with her friend, Michal Alibayof who 3 years earlier at age 32, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I will never forget the moment I saw Michal for the first time. She was young, beautiful, healthy-looking – but mostly I was awestruck by her positive energy. It was at that exact moment, I could believe that I might recover. She assured me I would get my life back. As I remember it, it was a surreal and powerful encounter.
Michal and I developed a unique bond – and it is this bond which serves as the model for the 5 Under 40 Foundation. Michal shared her courage and her optimism with me; she literally took me by the hand and changed my life – simply by helping me believe I would live my life. We chartered every course together – the tricks to curb the side effects from chemotherapy, to beauty regimens to the physical and emotional toll of breast cancer.
With profound sadness, Michal passed away on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2012. I was fortunate enough to visit her in Tel Aviv in November 2011, as she had moved back home in 2009. She is the first young woman I have ever known who died of breast cancer.
I am now 10 years cancer free – during this time I have felt the impact of my breast cancer diagnosis in many ways large and small. I elected 5 years ago to undergo a prophylactic contralateral mastectomy. I have availed myself of many physical and psychological benefits. Most especially, I founded the 5 Under 40 Foundation in honor of the best friend I ever had.