Not just surviving — thriving

Paula Morelli, certified nurse-midwife for St. Elizabeth Physicians Women’s Health, wasn’t surprised when her mammogram results came back abnormal. Morelli, a Northern Kentucky University alumna, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.

“I always had a feeling the mammogram would come back abnormal,” Morelli said.

Morelli told her son Ryan, age 12 at the time, the doctors were going to take out the “bad stuff.”
“We tried to stay upbeat with him,” she said.

Morelli was 42 when doctors gave her the news. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 40s. Her mother was tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene, and the results were negative.
For Morelli’s two sisters, this means they’re not at a higher risk than the general population.
“More than one in four cancers in women are breast cancer,” Morelli said.

Morelli is an active participant in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure that is done annually in Cincinnati. This year alone the event had around 19,000 participants. Morelli began walking in her mother’s honor, but has found a new meaning in walking as a breast cancer survivor.

In recent years, she has begun to wear the “survivor” shirt. “It is very emotional for me. It reminds me of how fortunate I am.”

Instead of having a mastectomy, Morelli chose a different route. She explained that other women had sacrificed more than she did.

“At first I wouldn’t wear the survivor T-shirt. I felt like I didn’t deserve to,” Morelli said.
Unlike some breast cancer patients, Morelli’s cancer was detected early on, and she was given more time to take the necessary steps in seeking recovery.

“I don’t like to do more in terms of treatment than necessary. The prognosis is good for early-stage diagnosis,” Morelli said. She had a lumpectomy instead, followed by three months of radiation.
Morelli continued to work throughout her treatments. “I wanted my life to remain as normal as possible,” Morelli said. “Most of my patients didn’t know I had been diagnosed.”

Morelli has created a positive outcome from a negative experience by stressing to her patients the importance of annual check-ups.

“Every woman is at risk,” Morelli said. “Women should be familiar with their own bodies. Not knowing is not a good excuse.”

Starting at a young age, women should learn how to detect lumps in their breasts. Physicians suggest having regular mammograms at age 40. Morelli said women are most susceptible to breast cancer after age 40, although there are rare cases where younger women are diagnosed.

Morelli has been in remission for seven years. Because she is past the five-year mark, she is no longer in danger of a relapse, but she still attends her annual check-up with her oncologist.
“Early detection is so critical,” Morelli said. She is living proof.