Gina Cacoperdo, then 37, was alarmed when she discovered a pea-sized lump in her left breast near her arm pit. A mammogram and sonogram showed no signs of cancer and doctors reassured her the painful mass was "nothing to worry about." But after several months, the mother of two decided to have it removed.
"The doctor called and told me the lump was triple-negative breast cancer," recalled Gina, now 50. Triple-negative breast cancer does not have any of the receptors (i.e. estrogen, progesterone, HER2) that are commonly found. An MRI confirmed the diagnosis and revealed the disease had already spread throughout the breast and to one lymph node.
Within two weeks, Gina had undergone a mastectomy followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy and breast reconstruction surgery.
On weekends during treatment, her husband arranged for dozens of her friends, acquaintances and "total strangers" to fill their home, many of whom performed "random acts of kindness" that made the "darkest time" in her life bearable.
"People just stopped by with food or to say 'hello'; we had many nights where people were dancing in my kitchen as we listened to music from the '90s," said Gina, who "pays it forward" as a volunteer and president of the Islip Breast Cancer Coalition. "Giving back has made this journey much more valuable. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life."
Gina has now been cancer-free for more than 12 years.