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Patient Stories: Judith Bernstein
Lymphoma Patient Stories, Skin Cancer Patient Stories, Squamous Cell Cancer Patient Stories, Breast Cancer Patient Stories, Lung Cancer Patient Stories
A long time resident of Ambler, Judith Bernstein, was enjoying a blessed life. She has a devoted husband, Arnold, a son, a daughter and beautiful grandchildren who are the love of her life. She had been diagnosed with numerous squamous cell skin carcinomas that were successfully removed. But there is much more to Judy.
The other love of her life was teaching second grade at Solomon-Schechter Jewish Day School. In 1998, Judy noticed changes in her health. "I was so short of breath that I asked my husband to watch me sleep to make sure I kept breathing," explained Judy. For more than a year, she sought the expertise of several physicians in the region who were unable to diagnose Judy.
"I knew it was time to take action."
"One day while shopping, I went to try on a choker necklace - but I couldn't get it around my neck. It was too swollen. I knew it was time to take action." Judy continued, "Eventually I was fortunate enough to find Dr. Mitchell Smith, hematologist-oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Coincidentally, I had taught his children." Dr. Smith made Judy's second cancer diagnosis in January 2001, which was lymphoma.
Starting treatment meant quitting her job. Judy could not compromise her health by spending time with children. According to Judy, "I was more devastated about leaving my teaching job than having to undergo cancer treatment. I lost an important part of my identity."
Her Special Gift
At the same time, Judy began spending time with her 3-year-old grandson, which afforded her daughter time alone with her new baby. By teaching him from a young age, they developed a special bond that still exists today. Her daughter explained, "My mom has a special gift that she has passed on to my children. We are so lucky to have her."
Unfortunately, Judy's cancer worries were far from over. A medical anomaly, Judy would be diagnosed with 3 more primary cancers over the next several years. Just six months after the first diagnosis, a routine mammogram uncovered breast cancer. After surgery and radiation, Judy was clear. Later, lung issues prompted her doctors to perform an open biopsy. Her doctors discovered two separate and distinct lung tumors in the upper right lobe. Again, surgery was performed to remove the cancer. Thankfully, none has ever metastasized to another part of her body.
"Fox Chase Keeps Me Healthy."
"I would rather be here at Fox Chase where everyone keeps such a close eye on me, especially Dr. Earl King and Dr. Smith's nurse practitioner, Barbara Rogers." Judy fondly refers to Dr. King as "Earl the Pearl". "Dr. King is a whole body doctor - not just a pulmonologist. He looks at everything, as does Barbara Rogers who is always my first line of defense. Fox Chase keeps me healthy," explains Judy. "They watch me very, very carefully."
With each diagnosis, Judy was prepared to fight the cancer. Between her bubbly personality and positive outlook, Judy is able to enjoy her life as much as possible. She travels all over the world, spends precious time with her grandchildren, is actively involved in her synagogue, plays bridge and most recently took up yoga, at her daughter's urging.
"I have too much to live for and I have too much to do."
"I have too much to live for and I have too much to do," said Judy. "I'm not going to stop doing what I love because I live with cancer."
"I am so lucky to be blessed with wonderful doctors and am fortunate enough to be near an unbelievable cancer center," she continued. "The entire staff at Fox Chase Cancer Center are incredibly caring, patient and kind 'and I write this about everyone, including the cleaning staff.' I have been a 'guest in their 5-star facility' numerous times."
A Positive Outlook
Often people ask Judy, "How do you keep such a positive, upbeat attitude?" Her answer - "Everyone has a story. Fate can't change what is going to happen to you, but you can change your attitude and how you are going to accept it." She's decided not to let the cancer win this fight.
In 2006, Judy joined the volunteer staff at Fox Chase as a Para chaplain. She offers much needed comfort and support to the cancer patients she visits. "It's a special pair of shoes I walk in." Judy's patients do not know that she has cancer. "The purpose of my visits is to listen to them. It's not about me."