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Oct 09, 2019

Family Afflicted by Breast Cancer Coping through Closeness, Laughter

By Lori Draz

Mary Ann LaSardo with daughters Karen and Jennifer

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Journal is proud to bring you the story of a brave warrior and friend to many in the hopes that everyone will get checked for breast cancer to honor their own lives and the lives of the ones they love.

Mary Ann LaSardo is well-known to many in the area. This former vice president of Cablevision and 30-plus-year Rumson resident is happily enjoying her new role as coordinator of Lunch Break’s Life Skills Center where she is devoted to offering training and services to those who need to find and maintain meaningful employment and improve the quality of their lives.

She is part of a big, loving family and is the proud mother of two adult daughters, Jennifer and Karen. She is also honored to serve as the Board chair for Mary’s Place By the Sea, a respite for women battling cancer.

There is a deep bond of love that runs throughout her family, and unfortunately a bond of cancer, too.

LaSardo shared her stunning family history. Her mom was the first to be diagnosed with uterine cancer. Her aunt, Marian, was diagnosed with and died from breast cancer. Marian’s daughter, Mary, and granddaughter, Nannette, were diagnosed with breast cancer as well.

Mary Ann LaSardo with sisters Judy and Camille

LaSardo’s sisters, Camille and Judy, were also diagnosed with breast cancer. Her daughter, Jennifer, received the same diagnosis in 2013. Even LaSardo’s maternal uncle was diagnosed. Each family member opted for varying treatments from lumpectomy to double mastectomy with radiation only or radiation with chemotherapy based on stage, type and age. Then there is LaSardo, who herself was diagnosed in 2012 and opted for a lumpectomy and reconstruction.

The curious thing is that each family member developed an unrelated type of breast cancer. It is medically baffling. Everyone in her family has been screened for the BRCA 1 and 2 genetic mutation, and no one is positive for that test. Yet LaSardo stresses that genetic screening is important. In the hopes of helping science and discovering how so many unrelated cancers could occur in one family, LaSardo was recently tested for 147 various genetic mutations which all came back normal. The mystery continues, and it shows that while great strides have been made, there is still much more work to do.

LaSardo’s family has been mostly fortunate in that other than her aunt, everyone else is a survivor of breast cancer. She attributes that to early detection, openness and candor. Her younger daughter, Karen, is screened twice a year.

LaSardo is a results-driven person with a fabulous sense of humor that is shared by everyone in her family, especially her daughters.

“When there is so much cancer in a family, the ability to share a laugh is not only important but helps coping with the fears and uncertainties,” she said. “We call the week of our regular breast exams, sonograms, MRIs and other tests our ‘breast fondling week.’ With so many family members in treatment, we decided to all use the same oncologist, so she could see any patterns in our diseases. Of course, we joke that we have our own family oncologist, and while that’s no fun, it’s still better than having a family bail bondsman. And then there are our conversations about whose post-surgery breasts are better, perkier and more natural. I believe that the laughter we share helps us help each other and reminds us of the joyful moments we have yet to share.”

For LaSardo, her diagnosis came in 2012, and her surgery was scheduled the day after Superstorm Sandy. It had to be rescheduled to Nov. 6, which was the Election Day right after the storm. “My daughter was set to pick me up at 7 am, but I insisted she get me at 7:30 so I could vote. Never underestimate one’s civic responsibilities!”

“Dealing with this disease has made me sensitive to the often silent conditions that many people are going through,” she said. “For instance, I remember leaving my oncologist’s office after our first treatment discussion. It was overwhelming and I was somewhat distracted, navigating my way out of a complicated and unfamiliar parking lot. I was driving slowly when someone laid on their car horn. They didn’t know I had just been discussing a variety of scary treatments to save my life. At that moment I vowed to never beep my horn unless it’s a critically dangerous situation. You never know what another person is dealing with. I have kept that vow and encourage everyone to welcome kindness into their lives.”

She also encourages everyone to get screened. She invites everyone to learn more about Mary’s Place by the Sea, the nonprofit organization in Ocean Grove dedicated to supporting women who are receiving treatment for cancer. Here, women get time away to focus on healing their spirit through free services like oncology massages, nutrition education, individual counseling, expressive writing, reflexology, Reiki, guided meditation, prayer and yoga. Mary’s Place by the Sea is celebrating its 10th anniversary and is hosting a grand gala Saturday, Oct. 19. To learn more, visit MarysPlaceByTheSea.org.