Breast Cancer Bio: Janet Santoro

Janet was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 1999, she was 52 years old. Janet had found two small, pea-sized lumps and a large “mass” in her left breast while doing a self-exam. She was able to see a specialist immediately and it was confirmed that she had both “lobular” (the large mass) and “ductile” (the pea-sized lumps) breast cancer. It was Stage III Breast Cancer.

She immediately began chemotherapy to reduce the size of the lobular breast cancer “mass” and to hopefully eliminate the two small “lumps”. She had a bi-lateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in July 1999. During surgery, cancer cells were found in the lymph nodes. It was decided that an Autologous Stem Cell Transplant (uses one’s own healthy stem cells) was necessary in order to prolong Janet’s life. Janet spent the next month gaining strength and her stem cells were harvested in September 1999. She was admitted to the hospital for the transplant, which was done successfully on September 23, 1999. She was in the hospital for about three weeks. A six week treatment of radiation therapy was completed in December 1999.

Between March 1999 and December 1999 (approximately nine months), Janet visited her doctors (when not in the hospital) at least once a week and was prescribed a variety of necessary medications (some with very uncomfortable side effects). During the whole physically and emotionally taxing ordeal, with the help of family, friends and the cancer community support resources, Janet remained positive and optimistic. So much so that she and our oldest daughter formed the Janet A Santoro Foundation in order to help other breast cancer patients and their families.

For the next six years, Janet dealt with the preventive medications and their side effects, many, many physician’s visits and tests. All the time remaining positive and focused on her Foundation and helping cancer patients and their families. During this period, the Foundation not only helped many breast cancer patients, but also reached out to patients suffering from other types of cancer. The Foundation financially supports organizations that provide cancer research and that provide support for not only the cancer patients themselves, but also to their families and caregivers. During this time, Janet’s passion became providing support directly to cancer patients who needed special help with their daily financial and/or emotional needs. She interacted personally with each individual and helped them through some difficult periods during and after their treatment.

In March 2006, Janet became anemic and, in general, wasn’t feeling well. She had some other medical issues that were addressed, but the anemia continued. In October 2006, she was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS). MDS is an incurable disease that usually develops in older males, but is sometimes caused by high dose chemotherapy in women. The disease causes the bone marrow to produce abnormal blood cells. She didn’t have cancer and remained cancer free, but now was starting a new battle. She started supportive treatments (medications and occasional blood transfusions) immediately to help stop the progression of this dreaded, fatal disease.

Unfortunately, the MDS progressed rapidly and Janet became transfusion dependent in July of 2007. In August 2007 she became very ill and was in the hospital for over 30 days, but recovered. After further testing and despite all the supportive treatments, she was given about one year to live. Her only hope was an Allogeneic Bone Marrow Transplant (the cells/bone marrow is harvested from a donor). This would be Janet’s second major life threatening medical procedure in 8 years.

Janet’s final battle began in early October 2007. Her brother was a perfect match as a donor for Janet’s transplant. The procedure was risky, but Janet again approached it with determination and a positive attitude. At first things went well, but in November she developed complications and was in ICU for over 30 days. To the surprise of her doctors, she survived. She required over 30 days of in-patient physical and occupational therapy and was released from the hospital on February 7, 2008 (she had spent over 4 months in the hospital).

Janet struggled with home physical and occupational therapy and the side effectives of her dozens of medications. She fought hard to regain her strength and remained positive.

After 3 months of “fighting”, Janet contracted a serious infection and within days went into septic shock. Miraculously she survived the first onslaught of the infection and was actually starting to show signs of recovery. However, her system was too weak and she went into septic shock a second time. Janet passed away on June 8, 2008 at 2:00 AM.

The last 9 years of Janet’s life were spent fighting illness, fighting the side effects of numerous medications and, most importantly to her, helping other people. The Janet A Santoro Foundation will try to continue that legacy.

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