Weeks after Catherine Benincasa, then 33, had stopped nursing her 10-month-old daughter, the cardiovascular ultrasound technologist felt a lump in her right breast. When she returned to work days later, the Sag Harbor mother of two performed an ultrasound on herself.
"I put the [ultrasound] probe on my breast and saw the mass," recalled Catherine, now 38. "I knew in my heart it was cancer."
A biopsy and breast MRI confirmed her suspicions: stage 2a invasive ductal carcinoma of the right breast, which would require a mastectomy.
After, as she nervously awaited the final pathology report to learn whether the cancer had spread, Catherine contemplated her demise. "I was devastated. My first thought was my children," she said, who were then ages 3 and 1. "They were so little I was afraid they wouldn't remember me."
To her relief, the cancer was confined to the right breast. From that point forward, Catherine swore to herself that cancer would not "define" her and that she would "define it" by raising awareness of the importance of early detection and dispelling the myth that a breast cancer diagnosis is always a death sentence.
It's been four years since her diagnosis and Catherine has kept her promise. For three years, she has been volunteering with The Coalition for Women's Cancers at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, her "lifeline" during her health crisis. If she is not sharing her breast cancer journey with the newly diagnosed, she is helping the organization plan events and fundraise.