Healthy You - Every Day

Surviving More Than One Cancer

Joan Esgro followed her instincts and got the best care when cancer came calling more than once

Joan Esgro, 71, of Archbald, Pa., is a retired teacher and school administrator who was 49 years old when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2000. 

“My family went on a summer vacation, and one night I was getting ready for dinner. After showering I was blow-drying my hair and saw a dimple on the left side of my left breast. It wasn’t a lump, but I had a foreboding sense of dread,” she says.

After a biopsy of the tumor, she was officially diagnosed with stage 3A breast cancer. For treatment, her doctors encouraged her to have a mastectomy of her left breast, as well as chemotherapy and radiation.

Moving forward from breast cancer

Back then, Esgro notes that BRCA testing was still very new, and she did not undergo testing. However, she pressed forward with her treatment while continuing her career as a school principal at the time and raising her two young boys. 

“I was never sick a day in my life before then. I felt like my body pulled a trick on me. And I still had young kids. My biggest concern was that I did not want them to look at me like they were going to lose their mother anytime soon,” Esgro says. “My husband went to all my chemotherapy sessions with me. I took leave from work and was able to take good care of myself.”

“I say to myself, ‘I can dwell on what has happened to me in the past, or I can say, here I am, 71 years old. I can do anything that I want to do.’” – Joan Esgro, cancer survivor

Cancer revealed again

Esgro’s treatment for breast cancer was successful, and her aftercare included computed tomography (CT) scans once a year, positron emission tomography (PET) scans every six months and regular bloodwork. However, in 2012 her bloodwork began to indicate something was not right. She was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer and was referred to Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN).

“It came out of the blue. I was working, raising my family, doing everything I was supposed to do, and it was just boom – where did that come from?” Esgro says.

At that point, Esgro was tested for BRCA, which revealed she was BRCA2 positive, a linking indicator of breast and ovarian cancers. 

“My numbers were so high, I was shocked. I remember walking down steps from the fourth-floor doctor's office and I said, ‘I have to get out of here.’ I went to my car and cried from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I am an eternal optimist, and I thought this was something I didn't have to worry about anymore. I wasn't ready for any of that.”

Her treatment included chemotherapy, as well as a hysterectomy via robotic surgery, all done at LVHN.

Two years later, Esgro went for a routine CT scan and another tumor was found, for which she underwent another surgery in May 2014, as well as chemotherapy.

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Living a joyful, cancer-free life

Esgro has been cancer-free since 2014 and remains under the care of gynecologic oncologist M. Bijoy Thomas, MD, and nurse practitioner Anastasia (Stacy) Bortz, CRNP, both with LVH Gynecologic Oncology–1240 Cedar Crest and Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute.

“Joan is truly our miracle patient,” Dr. Thomas says. “Her prognosis is excellent.”

Bortz agrees. “Joan is a survivor. She has undergone several complex surgeries, for both her ovarian and breast cancers, and multiple different courses of chemotherapy. Despite all of the health challenges she has faced, Joan remains resilient and incredibly positive,” Bortz says.

And Esgro is moving forward with her life.

“I feel like every time you have a life-threatening experience, it's something that lifts you higher and gets you closer to God. I wake up in the morning and I open my eyes and I say to myself, ‘I can dwell on what has happened to me in the past, or I can say, here I am, 71 years old. I can do anything that I want to do. I can still exercise. I have a wonderful family. I have my grandson. I love to cook, and I love to host holidays. My life is still so rich and full, how could I feel sorry for myself?’ I just enjoy every day,” Esgro says.

And she hopes to inspire other women to be proactive about their health.

“Don't write things off. Listen to your body and make sure you continue to go for scans and bloodwork,” Esgro says. “If there is anything I can do to help someone dealing with cancer, I want to be there for them.”

Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute

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