|Christina Plasse of South Deerfield, second from left, with her oncology
team, medical oncologist Sean Mullally, MD; Holly Michaelson, MD,
general surgeon; Helen Perakis, MD, plastic and reconstructive surgeon;
and Liisa Blondeau, oncology registered nurse
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Below, members of the Plasse family, from left, Sydney Curtin, Christina Plasse,
Rich West, Roger Plasse, and Alex Curtin. Christina Plasse says the support of
her family, friends, and community has helped her through her cancer experience.
”Cancer has dramatically changed my appearance. But I am still the same person.”
This is a frequent thought that goes through Christina Plasse’s mind as she walks through South Deerfield, the town where she lives, works, and is raising her two children.
“Sometimes I feel I need to explain to everyone what has happened and how cancer has changed how I look,” she says 18 months after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Plasse credits her supportive community and access to world-class medical care for her treatment and recovery.
The past few years have been traumatic. In 2013, Plasse’s mother, Sandra, was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer; she lived just two months after being diagnosed.
A year later, Plasse, age 43 at the time, had a routine mammogram, which uncovered a small tumor; later, a lumpectomy showed additional calcifications.In February 2015, Plasse decided to have a double mastectomy, surgery to remove both breasts.
“I didn’t want to live the rest of my life worrying about a cancer recurrence,” she said. Plasse’s cancer team — medical oncologist Sean Mullally, MD, surgeon Holly Michaelson, MD, and plastic surgeon Helen Perakis, MD — fully supported her decision and discussed her options at each step of the way, including breast reconstruction surgery.
Following her first surgery and three months of chemotherapy, Plasse returned to work before the breast reconstruction surgeries. “My co-workers have been so supportive throughout my ordeal,” noted Plasse, who works as a phlebotomist at the Cooley Dickinson South Deerfield Lab Patient Service Center.
“Prior to my breast reconstruction, Dr. Perakis set me up with a second opinion at Massachusetts General Hospital. Knowing that Mass General is there in case I need something more, or for the doctors at Cooley Dickinson to consult with their Mass General colleagues, speaks volumes about the care that is available in this community,” Plasse said.
With seven surgeries behind her, Plasse has begun to heal both physically and emotionally. She has dealt with many of the side effects that go along with cancer treatment, such as losing her hair, the grogginess known as “chemo brain,” and a diminished sense of taste.
“My hair is coming back thicker and curlier than before, and I have gained weight. I can try to lose weight, but one of the side effects of my medication, which I will take for at least 5 years, is weight gain,” she added. “I am getting used to the new me: larger than I was, but alive and thankful.”
Plasse says it’s the support of her community that has gotten her through this experience.
“The support I have from doctors, family, and friends has been amazing. I think being able to share my feelings has been one of the reasons I have been able to handle my diagnosis.”
Being diagnosed with cancer has been a real eye opener.
“People comment to me how positive I am. My response is you really have no choice. You either jump through the hoops or you succumb to the sickness. “I have thought a lot about my cancer diagnosis. And if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently.”