The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 19, 2012

Teacher vigilant after genetics lesson: Breast cancer can strike any family member

Michele Mikesic Bender
For The Tribune-Democrat

— Teacher Marie Olshefski learned that heredity plays a major role in breast cancer prevention and detection.

“Cancer, particularly breast cancer, runs in my family, especially on my dad’s side. My brother, who is 62 now, is a breast cancer survivor. I didn’t know men could even get it,” she explained.

A technician alerted Olshefski to the genetic factor years ago.

“That warning definitely made me more diligent about monthly self-exams and yearly mammograms,” she said.

In August 2011, Olshefski’s family physician, Dr. Eric Wieczorek, noted cell abnormalities in some routine blood work. He advised her to consult an oncologist.

Olshefski lauded Dr. Dianna Craig and the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center for the excellent care and support she received there.

A biopsy revealed that, although the lump was small, it was considered Stage 2A because it had already spread to some lymph nodes. The tumor was removed and radiation treatments under the supervision of Dr. David Stefanik began immediately.

Olshefski struggled to maintain her regular exercise program and work schedule at Conemaugh Township Area High School.

On Oct. 29, she and her husband joined the 2011 5K Walk for Life.

“We placed first in our age group of 16 participants,” she reported proudly.

In November, Dr. Michael Voloshin began administering chemotherapy. When the teacher, whose attendance was always perfect,º started to miss some school days, students knew something was wrong. The physical toll from the chemo was becoming obvious, too.

“My students were genuinely concerned,” said Olshefski. “The day I had to tell them what was going on was the most difficult day of my career.”

The following day, Olshefski’s classes surprised and touched her when pupils came to school wearing pink.

“Staff members at both Murtha centers and my doctors were extremely supportive and upbeat. They made me feel safe.

“Their encouragement helped me stay strong.”

The 58-year-old Richland resident believes that research has improved the quality of treatment over the years.

“I think that procedures were harsher, and meds have vastly improved. I feel great. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of early detection and treatment.”

She recalled the inspirational words spoken to her on her final day of radiation.

“In your life, you’ve had cancer.

“Now, just move forward,” instructed Dr. Pamela Reddy.

Olshefski is doing just that.

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