Breast Cancer Survival Guide, Part 3: Life, Interrupted

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"I had just gotten promoted..."

Diana Sacchi-Martinovic was just six months into a long-worked-for promotion to vice president of human resources for Avon's Asia region when she got the call. It was December 28, 2006, on a New York City street, during a Christmas outing with her two sons.

Her doctor told her that a needle biopsy revealed she had ductal carcinoma, cancer of the milk ducts, in her left breast. The tumor was small and it was too early to know whether the cancer had spread or what stage it was in.

She told her boys, Maurizio and Francesco, then 16 and 11, the bad news, right there on the street. She also called her husband, Alek Martinovic, at his New York office, and her parents in Peru. Then the trio continued their planned visit to the Nintendo store and to dinner.

All this had started with a routine mammogram nine days earlier. By January 1, when Diana called her boss in Hong Kong, she knew she'd have surgery and more tests to learn what else to do. He told her not to worry, to just take care of herself.

Despite the support of her company, Diana felt the pressure of a job with responsibility for a few thousand Avon employees in 10 Asian countries. She'd agreed to spend two out of every four weeks in Asia, which allowed her to avoid uprooting her husband, who works for the United Nations Security Council, and sons from Westport, Connecticut, where they've lived for almost 15 years.

But now, instead of flying to Hong Kong on January 7 for a meeting of Asia-region managers she'd helped organize, she visited more doctors; both her New York HR boss and Avon's CEO, Andrea Jung, had put her in touch with the Avon Foundation, which referred her to breast cancer physicians. Two weeks later, on January 15, Diana had a lumpectomy at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Though her cancer was stage 1, the tumor was aggressive. She took her only time off then -- a two-week disability leave -- to ponder the next choices.

When an Oncotype DX test showed a 12 percent chance of cancer returning within 10 years, she decided on chemo. "I wanted to kill all the cells before they even think about coming back into my body," she said. From March to May, she worked by e-mail and phone and went to her New York office once or twice a week.

Slowly, Diana began to travel again. In fact, she was at a business meeting in Florida in March, by which time her hair had already begun to fall out in clumps, when she decided to cut it off. When she returned home, her formerly shoulder-length hair was an inch long. "That was a bit of a shock," says Maurizio, now 17.

Until she lost her hair, many people didn't know she was sick. "I told people selectively on a one-on-one basis," she says. When her hair fell out, though, she mostly wore scarves rather than her wig. "A scarf is just more comfortable," she says. Between May, when chemo ended, and June, when radiation began, she managed to travel to Bangkok.

But cancer makes you concede some things, and Diana decided she had to tell Avon she couldn't keep up her intense travel schedule. Avon offered her a new position, vice president of human resources for global corporate functions, based in New York, with a start date of September 1. She will still travel, but much less.

Continued on page 3:  "I was 33 weeks pregnant..."

 

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