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Each year on Mother's Day, thousands of Philadelphians participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. During the 5K race, breast cancer patients and survivors are easily identified by their pink shirts, while others sport white race shirts.
Margaret Zuccotti was the first survivor to cross the Race for the Cure finish line four years in a row.
In 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011, the first pink shirt to cross the finish line was Margaret Zuccotti. She was also the first in her family to have stage IV inflammatory breast cancer.
In the fall of 2006, Margaret was thoroughly enjoying motherhood. While nursing her 3rd baby, Margaret experienced symptoms of mastitis, or a breast infection. Her breast was red, tender, swollen and painful to the touch. Her doctor prescribed antibiotics, which did not work. After several tests, Margaret was referred to a breast surgeon for answers.
"A surgeon at another fine Philadelphia hospital diagnosed me with inflammatory breast cancer — stage IV," she recalled. This news came as both a shock and surprise to Margaret, who was only 37 at the time, because breast cancer does not run in her family.
Stage IV means the breast cancer has spread to other organs. In Margaret's case, there were tumors on her liver and in the bone socket near her eye.
Doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York recommended that Margaret see Dr. Lori Goldstein at Fox Chase.
"My sister-in-law and her husband were both doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering at the time. They suggested I get a 'quick' diagnosis up there," Margaret shared. As soon as Margaret's doctor learned she was from Philadelphia, she said, "Oh, you're near Fox Chase Cancer Center. You're all set. Go see Dr. Lori Goldstein."
During their first meeting, Dr. Goldstein ordered further testing which indicated that Margaret was HER2 positive and ER/PR negative--both factors which may increase the aggressiveness of the disease. Armed with this information and Margaret's test results, Dr. Goldstein developed an individually tailored treatment plan that included 8 months of chemotherapy using a combination of the drugs taxol and herceptin.
Together with her team of doctors, Margaret decided to be aggressive against her cancer. In August 2009, under the guidance and advice of Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Richard Bleicher, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase, she underwent a mastectomy.
"Dr. Goldstein is the best! I was totally confident in her ability to offer the most effective treatment available."
"My husband and I believe that if and when my cancer comes back, then we'll only feel comfortable if we know we have done everything to combat it," said Margaret, who has a lot of respect for her doctors at Fox Chase. "Dr. Goldstein is the best! I was totally confident in her ability to offer the most effective treatment available."
"The nurses at Fox Chase are outstanding."
"The nurses at Fox Chase are also outstanding. They always made me feel welcome," Margaret remembered.
An avid athlete all her life, Margaret believes exercise helped ease her recovery. "I felt great the whole time I was on chemotherapy because I exercised regularly." She believes that staying active helped move the medicine through her body. "My husband, Andy, helped to keep our lives as regular as possible. He gave me his unwavering support, which helped me get through every day," she said.
At Fox Chase, Margaret felt a true connection to her treatment team, especially one of Dr. Goldstein's fellows who was a thyroid cancer survivor himself. "He was thoughtful and kind and entertained my questions to which there were no answers, like, 'How long is this going to take?' and 'What does my future look like?'"
"I was amazed at how well my body responded to treatment."
The chemotherapy was successful and Margaret's follow-up tests showed no cancer in her body. "The drugs wiped out the cancer in my breast, as well as the eye socket and spots on my liver. I was amazed at how well my body responded to treatment," recalled Margaret.
Margaret and her family continue to live knowing there is a possibility that the "2000 pound gorilla sleeping in the corner" - breast cancer - may come back. But she does not let it stop her from participating in all the sports she loves, including running, skiing, lacrosse and salt water fly fishing with her husband.
"Cancer is so tough on spouses and children. And my family have responded like heroes!"
"Life is precious. Through this experience, we appreciate the importance of staying in touch with friends and family because their support is invaluable," explained Margaret.
In 2010, Margaret came up with an idea to spread this support to other families. She founded the Louise S. Mauran Book Fund, which gives free children's books to families with small children to help them deal with cancer in the family. Because Margaret's children are so young, she was very worried about how they would cope with her diagnosis. Through the fund, she hopes to help other parents in a similar situation.