A long-time North Bergen resident, as well as educator and administrator in the township's school district, Magnus would regularly go for examinations and mammograms to detect the cancer that affected her older sister, Joan.
"I was always diligent in going for mammograms," Magnus said. "In March of 2003, I went for a mammogram and it was clear."
However, a few months later, Magnus discovered a black and blue mark on her breast that didn't look right. So although she wasn't scheduled for her yearly mammogram yet, Magnus went for another just to be sure. The test, along with a needle biopsy, found a malignancy.
"It was very small and I never would have felt it," said Magnus, who underwent a lumpectomy in September of 2003 for breast cancer. "I never would have even gone if not for the black and blue."
Magnus, who is in her fifties, underwent chemotherapy for months and endured 36 radiation treatments, all for a malignancy that was less than a centimeter in circumference.
But now, two years later, Magnus is thankfully cancer-free. She now has the distinction that more than seven million American women have - breast cancer survivor.
"Hopefully, I won't have to deal with it ever again," Magnus said. "I was pretty fortunate that it was caught in time. If I waited until my next scheduled mammogram in March, it might have been too late, because mine had already spread a little to my lymph nodes, and that's the reason why I had to undergo chemo."
Needless to say, when Magnus hears that a special kickoff for Breast Cancer Awareness Month was held in North Bergen, she applauded the efforts.
"Women certainly have to be very diligent about self examinations and testing," Magnus said. "They have to know their own bodies and notice if anything is different. They can go for an ultrasound test or a mammogram or both. But it's always important to be aware."
Used to be death sentence Years ago, a diagnosis of breast cancer was generally a death sentence with no hope for most women. But now, thanks to the efforts of organizations like the Hudson Perinatal Consortium, located in Jersey City, more and more women are becoming aware of the options and the measures they have to fight the No. 1 form of cancer women contract.
The Hudson Perinatal Consortium, in conjunction with the Jersey City Family Health Center, the Cancer Education & Early Detection (CEED) program and the Susan G. Komen Foundation's North Jersey affiliate, sponsored a kickoff campaign in seven different Hudson County communities, including North Bergen and Guttenberg, last Friday on the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Marielle Pratts, the coordinator of community outreach and education for the Hudson Perinatal Consortium, contacted representatives from the different municipalities, asking if they would participate in the kickoff campaign.
Each town set up a table complete with literature about breast cancer awareness. Representatives were on hand to answer questions, including breast cancer survivors. They sold pink ribbon bracelets and teddy bears to raise fund for a Christmas party for breast cancer survivors.
Pink ribbons were tied around the trees in the respective communities, and tags with the names of breast cancer survivors were hung in those trees. There were plenty of pink balloons to add to the festivities.
More importantly, they handed out certificates to women over 50 for free breast examinations and mammograms, which can become expensive, especially for those who can't afford medical insurance.
"We give out certificates all year round, not just during October," Pratts said. "And yes, it can get expensive. But it's a chance to enhance more awareness."
More vocal Pratts said that Mariann Moore, the executive director of the Hudson Perinatal Consortium, is also a breast cancer survivor for the last eight years and speaks openly about her ordeal.
"I think women today are becoming more vocal and are willing to share their stories in order that other women pay attention," Pratts said. "I think women are able to deal with it better."
The North Bergen Breast Cancer Awareness kickoff was held in front of the township's Urban Enterprise Zone office on Broadway. Kim Nicoliello, the township's UEZ coordinator, was glad to offer her office's services for the cause.
"They wanted to put the table in front of Town Hall, but we thought there would be more women present on Broadway, when they shop," Nicoliello said. "It turned out to be a good spot to have it, because there were a lot of women present. Prevention and awareness are keys. We have to do whatever we can to help. I think it was a very good event and quite a few women got information. I think it turned out well."
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco was on hand to greet several of the women who took part in the awareness kickoff.
The Guttenberg table was set up outside Town Hall on Park Avenue. It also had a good turnout.
Pratts estimated that approximately 400 women received free certificates throughout Hudson County last Friday, and that her group raised $900 for the Christmas party through the bracelet and teddy bear sales.
"We're happy with it, because last year, we had about $100," Pratts said. "We're hoping that people will see the ribbons on the trees and the name tags in the trees all month and remember breast cancer survivors."
Like Ann Magnus.
"It's very important for women to be aware," Magnus said. "Everyone always thinks that it happens to someone else and not them. Until it touches them, then they know."
Magnus said that there are several other breast cancer survivors who work for the North Bergen Board of Education.
"Last year, I went to the [Susan G. Komen Foundation] walk in Teaneck and I saw several teachers there," Magnus said. "There are so many within our department."
And in all walks of life. It's the month to remember those who have endured and survived - and to remember that prevention is the key.