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Name: Maria C. Weigel
Diagnosed At Age: 64
Status: Cancer-free

Bio: Maria was on the second to last boat that came through Ellis Island from Italy, alongside her parents and four older siblings with the hopes of a better life for their family. She was the youngest and became the only high school graduate in her family, as all her siblings were much older and went directly to work upon arriving in the United States. Maria worked in New York City for Philip Morris Co. and married her husband, Bill, in 1969. They had four children; two boys and two girls. They’re now all married and as a result, Maria and Bill are the proud grandparents of eight grandchildren. They are retired and enjoy living down the shore on the water.

My reaction when I was first diagnosed: I was shocked, I only went for my mammogram because the gym I belonged to was sponsoring a “Free One Month Membership” promotion for anyone who provided proof that they received a mammogram during October Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Thank you October Breast Cancer Month and thank you, Curves!

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How I’m feeling now: I feel blessed and thankful that it was caught early. I feel as though I dodged a bullet, in more than one way. Based on the findings, a mastectomy was not recommended, so I followed through with a lumpectomy.  I was not only graced with a clean bill of health afterwards, but I also did not need to undergo chemotherapy. I only needed to take a hormone therapy pill for five years. I realize that many diagnosed do not have the fortunate circumstance of being told they are cancer-free after treatment, and an even larger percentage have had to overcome much greater physical and mental obstacles that come with chemo that I was spared, to receive the same outcome. It is quite overwhelming when I think about it.

My inspirations: My husband, children and grandchildren.  I want to be around for them and see their families grow.  My kids and in-laws were my support system when I wanted to stay in a chair all day, numb from the news that the big “C” had actually hit me.  They were the ones calling each other, contacting doctors and doing research. They are the ones who pushed me to pursue a second opinion, and led me to my Oncologist who performed my surgery. I’m just extremely grateful. My grandkids were the ones who put a smile on my face and made me forget what I was about to face and gave me the strength to stay strong mentally, when I felt like there was only a piece of scotch tape holding me together at times.

My support system: My whole family. My siblings, nieces and nephews reached out to my family and me to assure us that they were all there, willing to help in any way and were just available for support. In a big, Italian family, no one is alone in illness. Everyone is there, whether it is a phone call, a card, flowers, dropping off food or just sitting together. Some may find it overwhelming, but for us, it is calming to know that you’ll never be alone. It’s suffocating for me to think of how I’d feel if I was alone or didn’t have that support system.

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I’m proud of: My kids and husband’s support of me. Sometimes I went into panic mode. Other times, I stuck my head in the sand and didn’t allow myself to acknowledge it. They gave me the space and time I needed but always helped me regain focus if my pity party or denial lasted too long.

I’m afraid of: Recurrence of the cancer in my breast or elsewhere. Each time I utter the words, “Yes, its all gone… I’m cancer-free,” I get a creepy feeling and a tendency to shush the words that follow. Those words are, “for now.” I’m afraid that if it doesn’t return in the breast, that it may manifest somewhere else or in another form. I’m afraid that I need a complete lifestyle change, and that I’ll fail at accomplishing it before it’s too late.

I’ve learned:  To live life to the fullest and be happy with what we have. I’ve learned a lot about the Grace of God and how I’ve been given a second chance at life.

My advice to new patients: It’s easy now to tell someone to stay positive, but it didn’t give me that much comfort at the time that I was diagnosed! Sometimes, our loved ones want to be our guardians, protecting us from ever having one bad day or one bad thought, and some days we desperately need that guardian and motivation. But, some days, we just need to feel like it’s okay, or that we aren’t letting anyone down by losing it. The key, I believe, is to agree not to beat yourself up for having a bad day, as long as you vow to not let it turn into a bad week or month. If talking makes you feel better, talk to anyone! If it makes you uneasy to continuously discuss, don’t feel bad about setting boundaries and putting it on the shelf for a day. You can only focus on one day at a time, or you won’t have a fighting chance. It will consume you if you can’t stop thinking about what you might miss in 10 years. Worry about getting a good night sleep tonight and the rest will work itself out later. Put it in God’s hands and let “Jesus Take the Wheel.” There’s great freedom in handing your worries over to God. When the notion sets in that you actually have no say or control, it can be quite liberating!

To see more of our 31 Survivors in 31 Days stories, click here!