Striking back against cancer

The Perricone family is pictured in their home in Hampstead Oct. 3, just a couple of days before Kathy Perricone underwent a modified radical mastectomy to help treat her breast cancer. Pictured from left are Kathy's son Mason, Kathy, husband Alex, and son Jared. _- Original Credit: Submitted photo
The Perricone family is pictured in their home in Hampstead Oct. 3, just a couple of days before Kathy Perricone underwent a modified radical mastectomy to help treat her breast cancer. Pictured from left are Kathy's son Mason, Kathy, husband Alex, and son Jared. _- Original Credit: Submitted photo (HANDOUT)

Kathy Perricone, of Hampstead, is in the fight of her life, and she plans to win. The 52-year-old Computerized Tomography Technician at Advanced Radiology did everything by the book — never missing an annual mammogram — but by the time a 10-centimeter mass was found in her breast in mid-April, it had been growing for several years.

Perricone said her tumor went undetected because she has dense breast tissue — an issue about which she wants to raise awareness.


"When you have dense breast tissue you sometimes need other modalities — like an ultrasound or an MRI — to supplement detection," she said. "After it was discovered, I had a couple of biopsies — one of them in the end of April at Advanced Radiology and one in May at Mercy [Medical Center]. I also had an MRI at Mercy and the MRI showed it best."

Many patients have chemotherapy following surgery. Because of the size of her tumor, chemotherapy came first for Perricone. From May 19 to Sept. 2 she had six treatments.


Nausea, vomiting, indigestion, dehydration, fatigue and a bowel infection — all a result of the chemotherapy — complicated her treatment, but Perricone said her family rallied around to keep her spirits up through all that and the loss of her hair.

On Oct. 5 at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Perricone had a modified radical mastectomy, a procedure where the breast is removed but the pectoralis major muscle is spared. That will be followed by radiation five days a week for six weeks, beginning in early November. She said she won't know her prognosis until the pathology reports come in.

"My [Positron Emission Tomography] scan was good though," she said. "It didn't show any metastasis."

"I think at first it is like you hit a brick wall," Perricone said of when she found out she had cancer. "You expect an earlier detection when you've been following the rules. I've gone through the gamut of emotions. First, you ask, 'Why me?' You try to think positively, and then you think of your family."


Perricone's mom, Sue Burbank, of Manchester, said finding out her daughter had cancer was devastating. She felt numb.

"It is supposed to be the mother, not the daughter," she said. "It is a surreal thing. You just say, 'This can't be happening.'"

Perricone said her family has been a wall of strength and described her husband Alex as her "rock." Her sons Jared, 24, and Mason, 23, both moved home to help, she said.

"It is wonderful to have them here," she said. "My extended family has also been wonderful, especially my mom. All of my husband's family lives close by and most of my family does, too. They have been in constant touch and I get hugs frequently."

Burbank said "good people have come out of the woodwork with support" during her daughter's time of need.

"Kathy was in Walmart waiting for her son in the automotive department when an employee of Walmart saw her and I guess recognized [her struggle] because she didn't have her wig on — just a hat," Burbank said. "She walked up to her and handed her flowers and said, 'Keep fighting.' It is touching to see how we are surrounded by kind and caring people. It's the little things. Sometimes you don't realize the magnitude of those little things."

Burbank said her daughter's colleagues at work have also shown their concern and care.

"Kathy's associates at work have been outstanding in their compassion and support, too," Burbank said. "Unusually so. They are as heartwarming as they are emotionally uplifting."

Lisa Bice, Perricone's cousin, lives in West Virginia. She said Perricone's sister-in-law had the idea of making a book for Perricone to look at while undergoing chemotherapy — one with lots of family photos.

"She sent an email asking everyone to send pictures of Kathy but I knew I had to do more," Bice said. "I signed onto the Susan G. Komen [Foundation] site. I am a runner and I thought I would run in her honor, but when I signed up it asked me, 'How many team members would you like to recruit?' "

Bice plunged forward, pledging to recruit five team members. She named the team Kathy's Crusaders. Next, she sent an email to family to let them know she had signed up to run on Oct. 23 in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Hunt Valley, and she invited them to join her.

"Now we have 27 team members walking and running. And there will be more there to cheer her and be supportive," Bice said.

The family worked together to have team T-shirts made, designed by Perricone's son Mason. The front will have the team name and the back of the shirts will say "No one fights alone."

"Fifty-five people have shirts. Some will not be walking but will be there to support Kathy," Burbank said. "Kathy's entire family and Alex's family have been awesome. Her husband, Alex, is a pillar of strength. Our family and his have just been phenomenal. It is a gift beyond measure."

Burbank said she will be walking to honor and support her daughter.

"If she is able to walk, Kathy will be there and plans to walk, too," Burbank said. "She is a trooper."

Perricone, who has walked in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure for others in past years, said she is touched the number of people coming to walk for Kathy's Crusaders.

"All of my family has joined the team and my work family is supporting it, too," Perricone said.

Perricone said the Susan G. Komen Foundation has been instrumental in raising awareness about breast cancer. She also said it's important for people to be educated about their medical needs.

"It is important for people to know what their individual needs are. You may need more than just a mammogram, like in my case. I would have been willing to pay for other exams if insurance didn't cover them, but I didn't know. It's important to know the difference between the different breast cancer diagnoses and the treatments and to be aware of what happens after treatment. Awareness has come to light more with the Susan Komen Race. Now we need to take the next step and get more people educated about what their needs may be. We also need to focus more on cures and treatment for recurrences," she said.

Perricone said she is keeping her head up and her thoughts positive.

"I am trying to keep a good attitude and keep my strength up and just hope that I have a clean bill of health when I am through it all. I'm crossing one bridge at a time," she said.

Bice said she hopes many come out to be a part of the Race for the Cure.

"This isn't about me. It is just about supporting my cousin. We are a tight family. I couldn't think of anything else to do," Bice said, adding. "If we can raise money and awareness that is good."

For information about how to walk, form a team or donate to Kathy's Crusaders, visit www.komenmd.org and search for the Hunt Valley Race.

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