50, Fabulous…and Cancer-Free

By Chiara Marcello

At 12 years of age, Bessie Atzori lost her mother to breast cancer at age 50. As Bessie got older, developing breast cancer lingered in her mind, but she never thought it could happen to her. Yet, Bessie was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2021 at age 48.

Her journey began in June 2021 when she began to feel pain in her left breast. Bessie continued to self-examine her breast and noticed a lump deep under her skin below her armpit. Bessie could sense something was wrong. “I remember looking in the mirror,” she explained, “and thinking, I have breast cancer.”

Bessie immediately went for an ultrasound and visited her family physician who assured her there was no cause for concern. Three weeks later, Bessie did another ultrasound and received the same information from her physician, but Bessie was not content. By the end of August, her breasts began to swell and her pain had worsened.

Eager for further confirmation, Bessie connected with Elizabeth Caputo, a clerk from the Hospital’s breast health center, who urged her to send in a referral and all her medical imaging results from her previous ultrasounds.

The next day, Bessie was instructed to visit the breast health center to see Dr. Laura Whiteacre, a general surgeon at Humber River Health. Dr. Whiteacre sent Bessie to do a biopsy, explaining, “we don’t know what it is until we actually know what it is.”

Soon after, Bessie received a call from Dr. Whiteacre where she learned she had tested positive for breast cancer. “The first words out of my mouth,” said Bessie, “were how long do I have to live?” Dr. Whiteacre did an excellent job calming her nerves and assuring her that everything would be fine.

Bessie’s cancer treatment was initiated quickly after. She was sent to see Dr. Sabrina Allegro, an oncologist in Humber’s cancer care clinic. Together with Dr. Whiteacre and the breast health center, they developed a cancer care plan unique to Bessie and her journey.

Bessie underwent eight sessions of chemotherapy between January and April of 2022. From watching what her mother went through, Bessie had imagined her experience being the same. Dr. Allegro reassured her that medicine has since evolved and chemotherapy treatments are now tailored to individuals’ needs.

The staff, physicians, and nurses at Humber provided Bessie with exceptional physical and emotional care every step of the way. “I remember crying during my first session, and one of the nurses stopped what she was doing and came to sit with me. She told me everything would be okay and we would get through it together,” explained Bessie. She shared that the team never made her feel like a number on an assembly line, but rather provided her with immense support by educating her, answering her questions, providing social work care, and simply listening to her concerns.

Bessie is also fortunate to have a strong support system at home through her children, her boyfriend, her immediate family, and her friends, three of which also battled breast cancer. “At first I didn’t want to tell anyone, but I quickly realized how important it was to talk to others who had also gone through it. During my chemo sessions, my friends told me to put up a countdown to zero and it truly helped. They and Dr. Allegro helped guide me through the process,” said Bessie.

Following her successful chemotherapy sessions, Bessie underwent a surgical removal procedure with Dr. Whiteacre.

At 8:15 p.m. on May 24, 2022, Bessie received a heartwarming call from Dr. Allegro, informing Bessie that she was officially cancer-free.

Bessie is excited to turn 50 in the coming weeks, with her breast cancer battle behind her.

To other women battling breast cancer, Bessie encourages you to “just push through it. Every day you have to get up and keep going…you just have to do it, and you can.”

Bessie also reminds all women that, “If your gut tells you something is not right, go get it checked. If you aren’t getting the answers you want from your doctors, find ones that will listen to you. Do your due diligence and get checked.”

Bessie continuously thanks the staff, physicians, and nurses at Humber River Health who make caring for their patients of top priority. “Everything happens for a reason, and going to Humber was truly one of the best decisions I could have made.”

Bessie Atzori