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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Daily exercise is protective against breast cancer. METRO photo
Exercise and diet can significantly reduce risk

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and everyone agrees that awareness is crucial. The incidence of invasive breast cancer in 2020 in the U.S. is estimated to be over 270,000 new cases, with approximately 40,000 patients dying from this disease each year (1).

A primary objective of raising awareness is to promote screening for early detection. But at what age should screening start and how often should we be screened?

Here is where divergence occurs; experts can’t agree on age and frequency. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms every other year, from age 50 through age 74 (2). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends consideration of beginning mammograms at 40, but starting no later than 50, and continuing until age 75. They encourage a process of shared decision-making between patient and physician (3).

Just as important as screening is prevention, whether it is primary, preventing the disease from occurring, or secondary, preventing recurrence. Potential ways of doing this may include lifestyle modifications, such as diet, exercise, obesity treatment and normalizing cholesterol levels. Additionally, although results are mixed, it seems that bisphosphonates do not reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Bisphosphonates

Bisphosphonates include Fosamax (alendronate), Zometa (zoledronic acid) and Boniva (ibandronate) used to treat osteoporosis. Do they have a role in breast cancer prevention? It depends on the population, and it depends on study quality.

In a meta-analysis involving two randomized controlled trials (RCTs), FIT and HORIZON-PFT, results showed no benefit from the use of bisphosphonates in reducing breast cancer risk (4). The study population involved 14,000 postmenopausal women from ages 55 to 89 women who had osteoporosis, but who did not have a personal history of breast cancer. In other words, the bisphosphonates were being used for primary prevention.

In a more recent meta-analysis of 10 studies with over 950,000 total participants, results showed that bisphosphonates did indeed reduce the risk of primary breast cancer in patients by as much as 12 percent (5). However, when the researchers dug more deeply into the studies, they found inconsistencies in the results between observational and case-control trials versus RCTs, along with an indication that longer-term use of bisphosphonates is more likely to be protective than use of less than one year. 

Randomized controlled trials are better designed than observational trials. Therefore, it is more likely that bisphosphonates do not work in reducing breast cancer risk in patients without a history of breast cancer or, in other words, in primary prevention.

Exercise

We know exercise is important in diseases and breast cancer is no exception. In an observational trial, exercise reduced breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women significantly (6). These women exercised moderately; they walked four hours a week over a four-year period. If they exercised previously, but not recently, five to nine years ago, no benefit was seen. The researchers stressed that it is never too late to begin exercise.

Only about one-third of women get the recommended level of exercise every week: 30 minutes for five days a week. Once diagnosed with breast cancer, women tend to exercise less, not more. We need to expend as much energy and resources emphasizing exercise as a prevention method as we do screenings.

Soy intake

Contrary to popular belief, soy may be beneficial in reducing breast cancer risk. In a meta-analysis (a group of eight observational studies), those who consumed more soy saw a significant reduction in breast cancer compared to those who consumed less (7). There was a dose-response curve among three groups: high intake of >20 mg per day, moderate intake of 10 mg and low intake of <5 mg.

Those in the highest group had a 29 percent reduced risk, and those in the moderate group had a 12 percent reduced risk when compared to those who consumed the least. In addition, higher soy intake has been associated with reduced recurrence and increased survival for those previously diagnosed with breast cancer (8). Why have we not seen this in U.S. trials? The level of soy used in U.S. trials is a fraction of what is used in Asian trials. The benefit from soy is thought to come from isoflavones, plant-rich nutrients.

Western vs. Mediterranean diets

A Mediterranean diet may decrease the risk of breast cancer significantly.

In an observational study, results showed that, while the Western diet increases breast cancer risk by 46 percent, the Spanish Mediterranean diet has the inverse effect, decreasing risk by 44 percent (9). The effect of the Mediterranean diet was even more powerful in triple-negative tumors, which tend to be difficult to treat. The authors concluded that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and oily fish were potentially beneficial.

Hooray for Breast Cancer Awareness Month stressing the importance of mammography and breast self-exams. However, we need to give significantly more attention to prevention of breast cancer and its recurrence. Through potentially more soy intake, as well as a Mediterranean diet and modest exercise, we may be able to accelerate the trend toward a lower breast cancer incidence.

References:

(1)breastcancer.org.(2)uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org. (3) acog.org. (4) JAMA Inter Med online. 2014 Aug. 11. (5) Clin Epidemiol. 2019; 11: 593–603. (6) Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev online. 2014 Aug. 11. (7) Br J Cancer. 2008;98:9-14. (8) JAMA. 2009 Dec 9; 302(22): 2437–2443. (9) Br J Cancer. 2014;111:1454-1462.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.

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Patients arriving at the Fortunato Breast Health Center use sanitizing gel before being given a mask and having their temperature taken.

Early detection is crucial in diagnosing and treating breast cancer. But screenings in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic have become more complicated, with many screening centers closing for a time and patients fearful to come into a hospital or clinic setting. Mather Hospital’s Fortunato Breast Health Center has responded with strict safety protocols designed to protect patients and staff.

Above, patients are socially distanced from Fortunato Breast Health Center staff when checking in for a screening.

“As always with breast cancer and other cancers, your best bet is to have an early diagnosis,” said Breast Center Co-Medical Director Michelle Price, MD. “The importance of early detection cannot be overstated. Therefore, we have adapted protocols so that we can continue to provide expert care in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Breast Center recommends that women receive their first screening mammography at age 40 and continue annual screening every year thereafter. Many professional societies involved with the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer also continue to recommend annual screening mammography starting at age 40, including the Society for Breast Imaging, American College of Radiology and National Comprehensive Cancer Network. In some high-risk situations, screening may begin even earlier.

Strict safety protocols have been implemented at the Breast Center in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Price said this includes all staff and patients wearing masks at all times, everyone undergoing temperature checks when they arrive at the Breast Center, patients completing a COVID screening questionnaire about possible exposure to the virus, and the use of sanitizing gel.

“We no longer routinely have patients use waiting rooms, to minimize personal interactions,” said Dr. Price. “When patients arrive, they first call from their car, and are brought in one at a time for a streamlined experience.”

Where patients once routinely filled out a medical history form to provide information, the technologist now interviews the patient and records the pertinent data. This change eliminates the need for patients to handle a pen and paper.

Fortunato Breast Health Center Co-Medical Directors Michelle Price, MD, and Joseph Carrucciu, MD, with a 3D mammography unit in a photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a socially distant protocol where the patient has very limited contact with anyone else, providing maximal safety. The technologist brings the patient to the mammography room, where she is provided a gown to change in to privately. When ready, the technologist enters the room and performs the mammogram. When the study is complete, the patient is again given privacy to get dressed, and she is escorted out of the department by the technologist. As has always been the case, the imaging equipment is thoroughly disinfected between patients. People seem very satisfied with what we have done from the point of safety protocols. It’s a similar setup they’ve experienced at other doctors’ offices,” said Dr. Price who stressed the importance of continuing with annual mammograms despite the pandemic.

“Early in the pandemic, non-urgent medical care was postponed, but now the situation has changed,” she said. “The current consensus is that screening should continue if it can be done safely. We have implemented protocols to maximize safety for patients and staff alike. Early detection of breast cancer offers us the best chance for successful treatment.”

The Fortunato Breast Center uses advanced 3D mammography that is designed to make screening more comfortable. The 3D mammography also offers sharper, clearer images for improved diagnostic accuracy all while providing the lowest radiation dose of all FDA approved mammography systems.

Fortunato Breast Center radiologists are specialists who only read breast imaging studies and look back as far as possible at a patient’s history of breast images for any subtle changes or abnormalities in order to provide the most accurate reading.

Should a patient have a breast cancer diagnosis, the Breast Center’s compassionate nurse navigators provide personal guidance with scheduling appointments for tests and follow-up procedures, getting prescriptions, insurance questions, and any other help patients may need. The Breast Center’s nurse navigators provide support throughout every step of the patients’ journey to recovery.

The Breast Center offers no cost or discounted mammography screenings for those individuals with low income and no health insurance. For more information, visit www. matherhospital.org/breasthealth or call 631-476-2771.

All photos courtesy of Mather Hospital

Above, employees at Mather Hospital taking part in last year's Wear Pink Day. Photo from Mather Hospital

And then there was light. Paint Port Pink, Mather Hospital’s annual breast cancer awareness campaign will kick off today, Oct.1, with the lighting of pink lights throughout the Village of Port Jefferson and in Port Jefferson Station. The month-long breast health outreach by Mather’s Fortunato Breast Health Center raises awareness, provides educational information and fosters solidarity in the community.

This year’s campaign, sponsored by New York Cancer & Blood Specialists, will join with its annual fundraising event Families Walk for Hope, which supports the Fortunato Breast Health Center. The Walk, a five-mile breast cancer fundraiser held the first Saturday in May, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is now taking place virtually through the end of October. The Walk this year will benefit the Fortunato Breast Health Center and Mather’s COVID-19 Emergency Fund. As a thank you and a reminder to wear a mask, anyone donating $10 or more to the Walk will receive a handmade mask. Register at www.familieswalkforhope.org

New this year is a Virtual Paint Night, hosted by Mather’s 2 South oncology and medical/surgical unit. Register at www.matherhospital.org/paintnight Also new is a “Mask-querade” mask decorating contest. Participants are asked to “pink” their masks and send photos to [email protected] by Oct. 20, as well as  posting on social media with the #paintportpink. The winner will be selected on Oct. 21 and receive a $100 gift card.

The hospital’s HealthyU webinar series will present four webinars on breast cancer each Tuesday in October from noon to 1 p.m. The series will look at diagnosis, treatment, surgery and breast reconstruction. Register for these webinars at www.matherhopsital.org/healthyu.

Returning this year is the Pink Your Pumpkin contest. Photos of “pinked” pumpkins can also be emailed to [email protected] by Oct. 20 and posted on social media with #paintportpink. The winner will be chosen on Oct. 21 and will receive a $100 gift card.

Paint your pumpkins pink for breast cancer awareness month.

Wear Pink Day takes place virtually on Friday, Oct. 16. Community members are urged to dress in pink in support of breast cancer awareness and post selfies on social media with #paintportpink. Photos can also be mailed to [email protected] to be included in a collage on Mather’s Facebook page. Don’t have anything pink to wear? Register for the Families Walk for Hope and receive an official pink t-shirt that can be used for your selfie.

The Port Jefferson Free Library celebrates Paint Port Pink with a Cherry Blossom Lantern workshop on Thursday, October 15, from 3 to 4 p.m. Participants will be guided step by step to paint their own lantern in a beautiful cherry blossom pattern. Register at https://tinyurl.com/cherryblossomlanterns.

A calendar of events and a list of Paint Port Pink community partners offering promotions to benefit the Fortunato Breast Health Center’s Fund for Uninsured is at www.matherhospital.org/pink. Register for the Families Walk for Hope at www.familieswalkforhope.org Call 631-476-2723 for more information.

Many businesses in the area will decorate their windows in support like the Cutting Hut in Port Jefferson Station.

Paint Port Pink, Mather Hospital’s annual breast cancer awareness campaign, returns this year with a full calendar of events. The month-long breast health outreach by Mather’s Fortunato Breast Health Center raises awareness, provides educational information and fosters solidarity in the community.

Paint Port Pink begins Tuesday, Oct. 1 with a Turn on Your Lights event for local community partners and residents, who turn on pink lights that were distributed by the hospital along with flags and information on breast health. Many community partners decorate their display windows with a pink theme and Mather recognizes the best efforts through their annual window decorating contest.

Mather Hospital employees dressed in pink during last year’s event.

New this year is Ladies Night Out at Comsewogue Public Library on Wednesday, Oct. 2, designed to celebrate women’s health by combining fun activities with wellness information. Participants can attend a mini-paint night, make their own body scrubs and get a back and neck massage by Mather-affiliated chiropractors. They can also learn about breast health from the Fortunato Breast Health Center’s Co-Medical Director Dr. Michelle Price, participate in a Reiki circle and get information on good nutrition for women from a Mather registered dietitian and sample healthy smoothies.

The Pink Your Pumpkin contest also returns this year. The contest asks participants to visit a local farm stand or craft store and find the perfect pumpkin, use their imagination to decorate it, and then submit a photo to [email protected] before Oct. 20. The top three winners will be selected by employee leaders at Mather Hospital on Oct. 21, and the results will be posted on Mather’s Facebook page.

Wear Pink Day is Oct. 18 – which is World Mammography Day – when Mather employees and community residents are encouraged to dress in pink and post their photos at #paintportpink.

Paint Port Pink community partners will again offer special promotions and fundraisers for the Fortunato Breast Health Center’s Fund for Uninsured, which offers no-cost or discounted mammography screenings to those with little or no insurance. These include Kilwin’s, Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A, Amazing Olive and Ethan Allen Furniture, Setauket.

The fall semester of HealthyU, Mather’s seminar series and exhibit fair, is on Saturday, Oct. 26. The day will feature many informative seminars including Women and Heart Health, the Brittle Bones of Osteoporosis, a Checklist for Health after 60, Tax Tips for Seniors and Staying Young Forever. Register for this free event at https://www.matherhospital.org/healthyu-registration/.

For more information about Paint Port Pink, please call 631-476-2723 or visit www.matherhospital.org/pink.

Photos from Mather Hospital

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Indulging in a delicious, fresh specialty doughnut can be done guilt free in Port Jefferson this month.

East Main & Main, a doughnut shop in Port Jefferson Village that opened in June and is named for the intersection it overlooks, has embraced the spirit of national Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In October, among the shop’s made fresh in-house daily selections has been an assortment of pink-decorated themed treats meant to honor the occasion and raise money for a worthy cause.

Port Jeff annually recognizes breast cancer awareness thanks to the Fortunato Breast Health Center Services at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, the driving force behind Paint Port Pink, a month-long community outreach effort in the village with the mission of raising awareness about breast cancer, sharing information and education and fostering solidarity in the community. Every day this month, East Main & Main owners Lisa Harris and Robert Strehle have brainstormed new pink doughnuts to offer to customers, and a portion of the sales for each of the commemorative pastries will be donated to the Fortunato center’s Fund for the Uninsured at the end of the month. The fund is comprised of money from community donations and fundraising initiatives to offer discounted or no-cost mammography screenings to qualified patients.

“Cancer in general is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart and this was something we were definitely going to jump on board with and participate in,” Harris said during a phone interview. She said she has an aunt who is a breast cancer survivor and knows many others, so the decision to participate was easy. “We just look forward to getting more and more involved in the community in any way that we can, especially for causes we believe in.”

Harris said the pink doughnuts have sold out every day so far and the customer response has been enthusiastic. Some of the flavors have included pink guava, peanut butter and jelly, pink lemonade, a “pink diva” doughnut with gold glitter and many more. None of the flavors have been or will be repeated, and Harris said it has been a little stressful coming up with new flavors, which she said they do on the fly each day, but a dedicated team of kid tasters and other customers have offered feedback and suggestions to share the creative burden.

“It’s all sorts of fun,” Harris said of the creative process.

On Oct. 4, the shop featured a strawberry pomegranate frosted doughnut, and a satisfied customer commented on a photo of the creation on East Main & Main’s Instagram account: “Yumm! The best flavor! Can’t wait for it to reappear in the spring — hopefully?”

Also featured the same day was the Pink Party, a strawberry frosted doughnut dipped in rainbow sprinkles.

“Hands down the best pink-frosted donut I’ve ever had,” another Instagram follower posted. “Thank you for that magic.”

Harris suggested the success of the October promotion has inspired the owners to seek out more month-long features aimed at raising money and awareness for worthy causes in the coming months.

The American Cancer Society reports that the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer sometime during her life is about one in eight. Since there is still no sure way to prevent breast cancer, increased awareness, education and early detection are critical components of breast health care. The Fortunato center recommends that women apply the following the guidelines for early detection of breast cancer: first mammography by age 40 and yearly mammograms after age 40; clinical breast exams at least every three years beginning at age 20 and annually after age 40; and monthly breast self-examinations.

Barbara Vivolo stands in her new wig salon. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A Hauppauge breast cancer survivor is hoping to turn her experience into a new business to help others feel good about themselves.

Barbara Vivolo opened Barbara’s Hair Studio in September, a custom wig salon with the aim to help women diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses resulting in hair loss. The shop, opening days before October, which marks Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is fortuitous for Vivolo — who prefers to call herself a “thriver” rather than a survivor.

“I asked myself how can I make them go from survivors to thrivers?” Vivolo said. “To become thrivers we have to move forward together.”

Barbara Vivolo wears a pink wig at a breast cancer charity kickoff event. Photo from Facebook

Vivolo is a trained cosmetologist with more than 30 years experience, whose life dramatically changed when her mother and aunt were both diagnosed with breast cancer within the same week.

“My aunt was a hairdresser too, and she was always my inspiration to become a hairdresser when I was young,” Vivolo said. “We worked together for years.”

Her aunt, Phyllis Borek, lost her hair while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, which led Vivolo to her first time visiting a wig salon on the hunt for the perfect do.

“My aunt was funny with her wigs and we had a good time,” she said. “She was all, ‘Oh, now I can be the perfect redhead or I can be the perfect blond.’ One week it was short, then long. She really rocked it.”

Vivolo also started picking out wigs to ship to her mother in Florida, who continued working through her cancer treatments, often first painstakingly custom cutting and coloring the wigs.

Vivolo was shocked upon being diagnosed with ER-positive ductal carcinoma, breast cancer whose growth is affected by the hormone estrogen, at age 40. With three young children, she made the difficult choice to undergo a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery.

While undergoing her procedures, the hairdresser said she found it difficult to relax and heal without planning for the future and began writing in a composition notebook simply labeled “wig salon.”

“My husband would watch me write in this book every day, thinking about opening up a wig salon,” Vivolo said.

One composition notebook full of dreams and business ideas was quickly filled, then another, as Vivolo was more focused on raising her family.

“I prayed to my mother and my aunt that if I was going to open this salon, a wig salon to help women with cancer, I needed to win this money. When I found out I did, I sat there and cried.”

— Barbara Vivolo

In March 2016, Vivolo made the decision she would move forward. She wanted to offer cancer patients and women affected by hair loss a personal one-on-one experience where they could feel safe and supported during the process of selecting their first wig.

“It’s a awful lot to swallow,” she said.

Vivolo said she experienced “divine intervention” when attending a breast cancer event last October.

“I prayed to my mother and my aunt that if I was going to open this salon, a wig salon to help women with cancer, I needed to win this money,” she said. “When I found out I did, I sat there and cried.”

The hairdresser had won approximately $1,000 in a 50/50 raffle, which she then used to pay for her first shipment of wigs.

Now, she’s got a private one-chair hair studio where clients, one at a time, can come in and go through the process of being shaved, selecting their wig and have it custom colored and cut. The wigs range in price from $200 to more than $1,000, synthetic to made with human hair. While going through the process, Vivolo said she often answers questions about her personal experience and offers support as a certified health and life coach.

“They can see my end results, while they are in the beginning phases [of treatment],” Vivolo said. “I say to them, ‘Let me hold your hand and walk through this with you.’”

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St. Charles Hospital nurses and other staff wear pink bracelets as a sign of support for Desiree Bielski-Stoff, who is battling breast cancer. Photo from Bielski-Stoff

By Rebecca Anzel

Registered nurse at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson Desiree Bielski-Stoff knows what a lump feels like — she had a small one removed from her left breast when she was 20. Since then, she performed self-examinations regularly and, coupled with her medical knowledge, thought she was “pretty good” at self-assessment.

In September, Bielski-Stoff, who is now 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Less than a month later, she had a double mastectomy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.

Bielski-Stoff waits to enter the operating room before her double mastectomy Oct. 4. Photo from Bielski-Stoff
Bielski-Stoff waits to enter the operating room before her double mastectomy Oct. 4. Photo from Bielski-Stoff

“I was looking for something like that mass in my left breast, something I could feel,” she said. “It wasn’t like a lighted sign going ‘Bling Bling, you have cancer — you have a mass in your breast,’ and I think that’s what we think we’re supposed to be looking for.”

October is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Bielski-Stoff has been sharing her story with friends and family in the hopes they will not have to go through what she experienced. Every two minutes, a woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease that kills more than 40,000 women each year, according to Right at Home, a senior care organization.

On average, women develop breast cancer at age 61. Bielski-Stoff’s diagnosis rattled her family, friends and coworkers. She has worked at the hospital since 2004.

“It’s eye-opening for all of us — I’m her age, you know? You never know,” Kim Audiino, an emergency room nurse at St. Charles Hospital and friend of Bielski-Stoff, said. “I think people need to open their eyes and be more alert about checking themselves.”

Bielski-Stoff was getting dressed after taking a shower in August when out of the corner of her eye, she noticed her right breast collapsed when she lifted her arm. Her first thought, she said, was that it was due to the 10 pounds she recently lost for her sister’s upcoming wedding. Bielski-Stoff conducted a brief self-exam, finding nothing out of the ordinary — nothing was swollen and she did not feel any lumps.

She showed her gynecologist that Wednesday. Bielski-Stoff said the doctor cocked her head, commented that it looked like a dimple and gave her a script for a mammogram and an ultrasound. The doctor told her it was probably nothing but she wanted to be on the safe side.

Her appointment was Sept. 7 at St. Charles with Dr. Jane Marie Testa, a doctor her coworkers recommended after Bielski-Stoff insisted she wanted to see the best. George, her husband, had asked if she wanted him to go with her, but she said no — she did not want to make it a big deal.

“I remember driving there and pulling up in the parking lot and thinking, either this is going to go in a good way or it’s not,” Bielski-Stoff said, “like, this could be the last time I feel normal.”

The tests took a few hours. When they were over, Testa came in and said she wanted to show Bielski-Stoff a few things with the ultrasound. There was a spot on her left breast the doctor wanted to take a sample of, and one on her right. Then Testa hovered over another spot on her right breast and said she was sorry — it was cancer.

There was no question about what it was, Bielski-Stoff said. It was a classic presentation of a cancerous mass. It was irregularly shaped and had vascularity and calcifications. Questions were flying through her mind about whether her life was over, if she would be in pain and if she was going to be okay, she said.

“The feeling that comes over you when somebody says cancer is just, I started crying,” Bielski-Stoff said. “I thought, ‘How do I absorb this right now. It was everything all at once — fear, a lot of fear.”

Her sister’s wedding was that weekend, so she booked the biopsies for the following Wednesday. Then she set about trying to find a surgeon.

Bielski-Stoff’s insurance company told her there was only one in network near her, so she turned to her coworkers at St. Charles for advice. With the help of her supervisor and the head of human resources, Bielski-Stoff learned the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering were covered.

The surgeon gave her two options: either Bielski-Stoff could get a lumpectomy with radiation or she could get a mastectomy. She opted for a double mastectomy.

“I have to live with this. This is what I can live with,” she said about her decision. “I’m young, 37. I can’t spend the rest of my life panicking that I’m getting cancer again.”

“The feeling that comes over you when somebody says cancer is just, I started crying. I thought, ‘How do I absorb this right now. It was everything all at once — fear, a lot of fear.”

— Desiree Bielski-Stoff

Her surgery was Oct. 3. Two weeks later, all the drains were out and she was sore but doing well. The support from her friends at St. Charles helped her through the experience, she said. They visited her every day, bringing her flowers and food, watching movies with her, checking her dressings, helping her bathe and delivering her medicine from the pharmacy.

“We were pretty much her nanny 24/7 while her husband was working,” Audiino said. “She was never alone, and she had more care than anyone I’ve seen because she’s so well-known and well-liked. We love her to pieces.”

Audiino and another friend, Colleen Miller, raised just about $600 selling over 150 pink bracelets around the hospital. Her Facebook page is littered with pictures of coworkers wearing their bracelets — some say Faith, others say Hope and Survivor. The funds paid for the hotel room Bielski-Stoff’s husband stayed in the night before her surgery.

St. Charles is letting employees donate their vacation time to Bielski-Stoff. She has exhausted hers between her cancer experience and working on the hospital’s negotiating team.

“All of us at St. Charles wish Desiree the best of health — I am very proud of our staff for supporting Desiree during this difficult time,” Jim O’Connor, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at St. Charles, said in an email. “Their gesture also brings awareness to this important health issue and the need for screening and early detection.”

Others have been doing what they can to show their support as well. A former patient’s family drove to her house from the North Shore to drop off supermarket gift cards, and her sister set up a GoFundMe account.

Bielski-Stoff said this experience has been traumatic because it feels like she does not just have cancer, but all her friends and family do. Her diagnosis has made the people around her aware of the importance of conducting self-examinations and going to a doctor regularly.

“It made me have a different look on life and it definitely opened my eyes to making sure that I take care of myself and my children, and that all of my friends keep up with checking for themselves,” Miller, a nursing assistant at St. Charles, said. “In the meantime, we all have to be ‘Dezzy strong,’ as I call it, and be there for her while she’s recovering.”

Bielski-Stoff found out on Halloween she’ll need four months of chemotherapy. 

“That’s going to change me as well and make the fight a little bit harder,” she said.

Bielski-Stoff’s friend Jimmy Bonacasa is hosting a fundraiser for her at the Harbor Crab in Patchogue Sunday, Nov. 13, from 4 to 8 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $20.

This version was updated Nov. 1 to include Bielski-Stoff’s treatment plan.