The suitcases were packed and ready to go in the car. Alyssa Paro and her husband, Will, were about to make a 14-hour trip to Wisconsin with their two children, Ava and Liam.
But they weren’t battling snow and a longer-than-usual drive just to see family, though that fit in the trip. Alyssa, 28 years old, was making an appearance at a cancer benefit for her.
In the span of just a few months, Alyssa had gone from being healthy to facing breast cancer, a disease expected to claim the lives of nearly 40,000 women in 2013, according to the American Cancer Society. After two major surgeries, she learned she’d also begin a regimen of chemotherapy before she left to visit her hometown.
“It just happened so fast that I really had no time to think,” Paro said. “What I’ve read on the Internet, normally when women have a lump or something, they want to keep an eye on it for six months or so. I was not prepared for that either.”
Her brand of breast cancer wasn’t obvious and has required aggressive treatment, with more on the way.
But her attitude and willingness to fight has given her a positive prognosis, and help continues to come from all over, including Rock Creek Community Academy, where in-laws have been working for years.
AGGRESSIVE AND RARE
Christmas was coming up in less than a month when Paro got her diagnosis.
“It all happened within a month, it was so fast,” Paro said. “So many people said it probably wasn’t what they thought it was.”
Visits to her family doctor for examinations and tests didn’t give him a solid opinion. Paro said she got an ultrasound that also came out clear.
The National Cancer Institute recommends regular mammograms for women at age 40 or older.
Paro needed one 13 years earlier than that.
But because of her age, her insurance company resisted paying for the procedure. Her doctor, Rick Bobay, fought their denial and convinced them to cover the diagnostic. That’s when doctors understood what was going on.
“If I wouldn’t have had a mammogram, they wouldn’t have found out I have cancer,” Paro said.
Doctors diagnosed her with Paget disease of the breast. According to the National Cancer Institute’s website, the average age of women diagnosed with this type of cancer are 57 years old and represent 1 to 4 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.
A month later, at 27 years old, the young mother had a double mastectomy. Later, she had lymph nodes removed from the right side of her body.
She said doctors told her aggressive treatment was necessary. Older women who are diagnosed with Paget’s don’t see quite as quick a spread of the disease, but because of her age, her hormones and metabolism could have caused it to move into other parts of her body faster.
Through the whole process, Paro said she kept a video diary on YouTube to not only get her emotions out, but to inform others that breast cancer can hit anyone at any time.
“I wanted to have a place to share, I have lots of friends and family across the country,” Paro said. “ I wasn’t really afraid. I share my struggles on there, but I wanted it to be a place for people to learn and not be afraid for the future.”
She sells T-shirts on her website, VivaLaCure.org, which have helped her family take care of the medical bills. While people across the country have reached out to her, others closer to home have stepped in to help, too.