Celynn LaPlaca, 46, an elementary school emotional support interventionist from Whitehall, is a woman with a positive outlook on life. A yogi for 20 years who practices meditation, her mental and physical health were always important to her. So, in June 2019 when she felt a small bead-like lump in her breast, she was concerned and scheduled a mammogram.
“Everything was clear,” she says. But in September, the lump had changed. “It wasn’t one little bead anymore. It felt like a few different fibrous lumps.”
Her OB-GYN agreed the lump had changed, so LaPlaca was scheduled for another mammogram and ultrasound, followed by a needle biopsy. On Nov. 8, 2019, she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), the most common form of breast cancer.
She turned to humor to comfort herself. “I remember saying, ‘Oh wow, I didn't expect to walk out of here having cancer. But I guess I came in here with cancer!’” she says.
Comprehensive treatment plan
The next week she met with hematology oncologist Ranju Gupta, MD, with LVPG Hematology Oncology, and the Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute care team to discuss her treatment plan. After more testing, it was determined that LaPlaca’s IDC was HER positive (human epidermal growth factor receptor 2) and would respond to chemotherapy. She started chemotherapy treatment, and went once every three weeks for six cycles.
During chemotherapy, LaPlaca was able to continue working. “Working helped keep me strong, and I have so many great co-workers. They brought me food throughout and made me a sweet blanket. I’ve kept every single card,” LaPlaca says.
Her determination to remain positive was put to the test when she started to lose her hair. “So, I took control of the situation. I decided on New Year’s Day we were shaving my head,” she says. “My boyfriend, Christopher, and I took pictures. You can never be prepared for this; you just have to laugh at yourself. And I liked myself bald!”
Impact of COVID-19 during treatment
While LaPlaca continued chemotherapy, the coronavirus pandemic continued to get worse. “It was scary going through all this during COVID. Early on, Christopher would go with me to chemo, and my mom flew up from North Carolina to be with me,” she says. But as the pandemic worsened, she went to treatments on her own. “The team at LVHN assured me I was safe, and the nurses became like family. They offered pillows, blankets, and anything you need to eat or drink. They talk to you like a normal person.”
Decision to have mastectomy
Chemotherapy was just the start of LaPlaca’s treatment. After more scans were done, Gupta was happy with her cancer’s response to chemo, and it was decided that LaPlaca would have a bilateral mastectomy in April 2020. Surgical oncologist Lori Alfonse, DO, with LVPG Surgical Oncology, reassured her everything was going to be OK.
“Dr. Alfonse did the surgery, and she put my mind at ease. She is so easy to talk to and full of life. So, I was comfortable,” says LaPlaca.
After surgery, LaPlaca began radiation therapy in May 2020, with her radiation team led by radiation oncologist Hasan H. Danish, MD. “I saw Celynn weekly during radiation to provide medical care for treatment-related side effects and to offer her encouragement and emotional support. This is a practice we follow with all of our patients who receive radiation treatment to ensure they have the support and assistance they need throughout,” Danish says.
LaPlaca completed radiation treatment July 1, 2020.
Supported by family and friends, LaPlaca continues to meditate and journal every day to stay positive and keep her life as normal as possible. “I have HOPE: Have Only Positive Expectations. I’m paying attention to where I'm at now to get healthier and stronger,” she says.
And she’s thankful to her LVHN care team who has supported her through her darkest times.
“I wouldn't go anywhere else. They listen to you and appreciate you and your feedback and thoughts,” she says. “They make sure you feel 100 percent normal and encourage me to be positive, positive, positive.”
Watch Celynn's video giving words of encouragement to other women with breast cancer
For more information on breast cancer or to schedule your mammogram, visit LVHN.org/mammo or call 888-402-LVHN (5846).