Amy Tretola’s letters take on a different tone these days.
Amy is part of our team at Chapel Hill OBGYN. And this month is special to her.
During her fight with breast cancer, she would often write notes and letters to her children, who, at that time, were in fifth and second grade. These letters expressed things she couldn’t express in person without crying.
As a breast cancer survivor, these notes have been transformed. They’re happy notes. Notes of celebration. Of life. Notes of joy.
Every word and every letter is a celebration. No one knows that like Amy.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We could think of no better way to celebrate than by sharing the story of our wonderful Certified Medical Assistant Amy Tretola.
We’re more than thrilled to report that Amy has been cancer-free for five and a half years now.
But Amy’s journey – like that of breast cancer survivors across the country—is something much more than a story of a disease or diagnosis. It’s a testimony to persistence and courage.
Amy’s Breast Cancer Journey
Before she went on vacation, Amy Tretola conducted a breast self-exam. She felt something. She set up an appointment with her doctor as soon as possible.
Through her diagnosis she would find the same situation repeating itself. Three doctors told Amy they couldn’t find anything or feel anything. But because Amy said she felt something different, the physicians continued to run diagnostic tests.
An ultrasound only indicated a cyst, but when that cyst was aspirated, it showed some abnormal cells.
Eventually, the diagnosis came: DCIS—ductal carcinoma in situ.
A mammogram also showed microcalcifications, which was another indicator of cancer.
She was officially diagnosed with breast cancer a month shy of her 40th birthday.
“I thank God everyday it was stage 1, not in my lymph nodes,” she said.
Breast cancer did not run in her family. Although her parents had lung and pancreatic cancers. Later BRCA testing revealed she and her sister did not carry the gene.
After confirming the diagnosis with a second opinion, she made her decision: she wanted a double mastectomy. The main reason was because microcalcifications were found in different quadrants of her breast.
She did not need chemo or radiation. She was put on Tamoxifen, a medication used to treat breast cancer, and thankfully has had no bad side effects.
“I went through the stages you would expect from someone fighting cancer. At first there was depression. There was one day where I simply stayed in bed all day,” she said.
But when Amy awoke from that day, she had a revelation that blossomed into a new philosophy:
Yes, there were going to be some dark and devastating days ahead, but that did not change the fact that she had breast cancer—and that she had to fight it not just for her sake, but for the sake of her children.
“I realized I can have sad moments, but it was all about moving forward. I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me. If I can’t overcome it, I’ll go down fighting. I’m going to be living my life the way I want,” she said. “Yes, there were going to be dark and devastating days ahead, but that wouldn’t change the fact that I had breast cancer.
“I had to fight it, not just for my sake, but for the sake of my children.”
Her mastectomy was on Mardi Gras that year. Amy gave out beads to those on her health care team.
“It’s okay to be sad, but you have to also keep your sense of humor,” she said with a chuckle.
She took one year off her studies at Durham tech where she was working toward her Certified Medical Assistant degree.
“You have to be your own best advocate, “ she said. “I don’t care to dwell on being a cancer survivor, but I’m definitely willing to talk about it. I feel that I am stronger for it. It’s made me more compassionate and helps me better serve patients who may have found lumps and are concerned. “
While she proudly embraces the fact that she is a breast cancer survivor, she said that the important thing is to not let cancer become the center of your life.
Her advice to those who have been diagnosed with cancer?
“Be sad when you need to be sad, but don’t let it consume you.”
Chapel Hill – OBGYN: Always Encouraging Our Breast Cancer Patients
We encourage all women to conduct breast self-exams in addition to a clinical exam at their yearly physical. Screening mammograms are also a great tool in order to catch cancers when they are at the earliest stage and most treatable and beatable.
If you feel something different during your self-exam, like Amy did, please contact us. We’ll quickly schedule an appointment for you. We will take your concerns seriously.
Contact us today for more information or to schedule an appointment.
For more than 40 years, Chapel Hill OBGYN has served women in the Triangle area, sharing the joy of little miracles and supporting them during challenges. Our board-certified physicians and certified nurse midwives bring together the personal experience and convenience of a private practice with the state-of-the-art resources found at larger organizations. To schedule an appointment, please contact us for more information.