Desiree Tomasco lives life to the fullest with husband Tom and sons Blake, age nine, and Cole, age five. The magnificent gardens surrounding their home are compliments of Tom, who owns a landscape design company.
At first, Desiree Tomasco didn’t take the lump she found in her breast too seriously. She was a young mother nursing a newborn son, and her Ob/Gyn believed the lump to be a swollen milk duct. It seemed to disappear over time. When the lump became palpable again a year later, Desiree’s Ob/Gyn became concerned. He immediately referred her to Dr. Thomas Frazier at the Comprehensive Breast Center at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
Within a few days, Desiree had undergone a mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy. Dr. Frazier confirmed Desiree’s worst fear—she had breast cancer. She was only 32 years old; her son Blake just 18 months.
For the next three weeks, Desiree carefully researched her options. She interviewed breast cancer survivors, created flow charts measuring outcomes, and filled an entire binder with educational information. Based on her newfound knowledge that lumpectomies show a higher rate of recurrence, Desiree opted for Dr. Frazier to perform a mastectomy, with immediate reconstruction.
Dr. Frazier removed the breast containing the three-centimeter tumor, and three lymph nodes. The lymph nodes, tested during the surgical procedure, were negative. Desiree was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer.
Because of the size of her tumor and her age, chemotherapy was the next step. Early on during her treatments, Desiree cut her long hair into a bob. When her hair began falling out, her husband and son accompanied her to the hairdresser. They watched as her head was shaved. Desiree wanted Blake to understand “where mommy’s hair went.”
Desiree endured 24 weeks of chemotherapy, with side effects she equates to “a very bad case of morning sickness, without the positives of knowing that a child is growing inside you.” She relied on her strong spirituality, and her relationships with family and friends, to cope. Then she says, “You need to recuperate and put it behind you.”
Following treatment, Desiree found empowerment in “knowledge and action.” She met with a nutritionist, changing her eating habits from “a traditional American diet” to one rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. She found fairly-priced organic foods, which now comprise 60 percent of her diet. She researched the supplements that were right for her.
Less than two years later, Desiree gave birth to her second son, Cole. “I was truly blessed with a beautiful life,” she says. “I had a wonderful husband and two wonderful children. I was living the dream—very grateful for my life and for my health. I lived every day like it was a gift, not taking even one day for granted.”
The Second Time Around
It was in the spring of 2007 that Desiree began not feeling well. She was tired all the time, and was experiencing an ache under her arm. She had been following through with her check-ups every six months, and recently had a routine MRI at a facility outside of Main Line Health. Her thought was, “It’s not cancer—this couldn’t be happening again.” When she returned to the same facility for a routine mammogram six months later, the doctor found tucked in her file the results of her MRI report from the previous December. The report said she had breast cancer. The news never made it to Desiree, or to her doctor. She left that facility and returned immediately to Main Line Health and Dr. Frazier.
“One of the things I love about Dr. Frazier is his kindness and sensitivity every step of the way,” says Desiree. “There was never a time I interacted with him or his staff that they did not act completely concerned for me. I never felt like just another patient, like I wasn’t 100 percent important to them. They always made me feel like they would do anything for me. From every nurse to the anesthesiologist, I had just a wonderful experience at Bryn Mawr Hospital.”
Desiree was diagnosed with Stage 2, estrogen-positive breast cancer in her remaining breast. It was not a return of the first cancer—but a new diagnosis. Once again, Dr. Frazier performed a mastectomy, removing the other breast as well as the lymph nodes in Desiree’s arm. She also had her ovaries removed, not wanting to again endure the menopause that sets in during chemotherapy. This time around, Desiree opted to receive all of her treatments at Bryn Mawr Hospital.
When her hair began to fall out, the entire family once again made the journey to the hairdresser for the shaving ceremony. It was now Desiree’s youngest son, Cole, who was two years old.
Desiree laughs as she tells of how her wig became the family pet. She keeps photographs of both Blake and Cole at age two, running through the house wearing mommy’s wig.
A New Lease on Life
Today, Blake is nine, Cole is five, and Desiree is one year out from treatment. She and her husband Tom enjoy an incredibly active lifestyle, vacationing in the Adirondack Mountains of New York as often as possible where they kayak, swim, and enjoy long hikes.
“I live a totally normal life without any restrictions,” says Desiree. While her day-to day routine has not changed, her outlook on life has evolved significantly. “I’m now planning my life—five years out, ten years out,” she explains. “I think about all of the things I want to do to enrich my life moving forward.” Her “to do list” includes a Scandinavian cruise, and a possible career change to become an elementary school teacher.
“Desiree is someone who has been able to move beyond her breast cancer and get back to focusing on her life,” says Dr. Frazier. “She’s taken a couple of hard knocks, but she’s never let things bother her the way they do a lot of breast cancer patients. She is a terrific role model—she’s done what she needed to do, and now she’s enjoying life and making the most of every day.”
While Desiree says her battles with cancer are now behind her, she looks out for her health with proper nutrition and exercise, and she is diligent about her check-up appointments. “I love coming to see Dr. Frazier and everyone at Bryn Mawr. If you have to go through what I went through, that is definitely the place to be.”
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