"Breast cancer is simple; it is a matter of life and death, but early detection saves lives," said Christopher Irizarry, president and CEO of NHCAC.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the NHCAC took the time to celebrate one if its own success stories on Monday, Oct. 16.
Back in 2000, Maria Salamon, who has worked for the NHCAC since 1989, was diagnosed with the early stages of breast cancer. Devastated by the turn of events, she only shared the information with her husband and her family at NHCAC, who helped her through the ordeal.
"I had my husband, but I also had my people at NHCAC, which is like my second home," said Salamon. "When I first came back from the hospital, the first person that called me was [former CEO] Mr. Leggiero. He gave me a lot of strength, and so did Mrs. [Ann] Dudsak and my co-workers."
Michael Leggiero lost his own battle to cancer almost two years ago.
According to Irizarry, the American Cancer Society said that in New Jersey there have been over 8,000 new cases of breast cancer last year.
"Fifteen percent [of afflicted women in the country] are expected to die," said Irizarry.
The main reason for the mortality rate is due to late detection, which is why annual examinations are always encouraged for women, especially above a certain age, as well as monthly self-breast examinations.
"NHCAC is offering free examinations at our different health center sites," said Irizarry. "Anyone who visits these sites wearing pink throughout the month of October will receive a gift that could save their life."
Unexpected, but happy ending
Like many survivors, Salamon was able to detect her breast cancer early enough to combat it. Although she had regular mammograms, Salamon went for another after finding a small lump in her breast during self-examination.
"When I first discovered I had breast cancer, I was devastated, and I thought I was going to die," said Salamon. "I just thought about myself skinny, dying, and with no hair."
Fortunately for Salamon, the cancer had been detected early, and she was in the operating room that same December to take out the lump.
"Dec. 28 was my operation, around Christmas time," said Salamon. "My husband was at my bedside, and we were told that it didn't spread."
Her mother does not know, to this day, that she had cancer.
Following the operation, Salamon underwent radiation treatments in Hackensack for about six to eight weeks, and followed up with mammograms every six months for that first year.
Salamon has been in remission for the past six years, and continues to follow up with her annual mammograms. She has also been talking to others about her experience to continue to spread awareness.
"Early detection is the cure for it because anybody can be affected, even if you are very young," said Salamon. "I try to tell my story, and tell the importance of self-examinations and mammograms."
Salamon was awarded a proclamation from the NHCAC for sharing her story.
NHCAC has its main headquarters at 5301 Broadway, West New York. Agency staffers are also currently raising money to contribute to the national breast cancer foundation.
For more information on the free mammograms visit NHCAC, 5301 Broadway, West New York or call (201)866-9320.