At age 38, Seymour resident Lauren Pontrich wasn’t worried about breast cancer.
Why should she be? She was young and healthy, and there was no history of it in her immediate family, she said.
If any type of cancer crossed her mind, it was ovarian. Her mother, Patti Rucker, is a 12-year survivor of ovarian cancer, and that alone increases Pontrich’s chances of getting it.
But when Pontrich felt a lump in her left breast while showering, she began to think about breast cancer a whole lot more.
“Back in December, basically, I found my lump through self-check,” she said.
The lump was right up next to her skin, and although she couldn’t see it, the skin around the area was visibly dimpling, she said.
It was the day after Christmas. She didn’t call anyone at that point because she wasn’t panicked about it.
“I waited a couple of weeks because I had read online that sometimes, that stuff pops up and goes away,” she said.
By the end of January, the lump hadn’t changed, so she went to see her family doctor.
“He didn’t think it was anything, either,” she said.
To know for sure, her doctor scheduled her for a mammogram — her first one ever — at the beginning of February.
Pontrich didn’t tell anyone about the appointment because she really didn’t think there was a reason to.
“If I had an inkling that something was wrong, I would have told my family,” she said.
After having the mammogram done, Pontrich was told she also needed to have an ultrasound. She didn’t know if that was normal procedure, but when the nurse said the radiologist needed to talk with Pontrich, she suspected the news wasn’t good.
The radiologist told her that she had a 1- to 1½-centimeter mass the size of a fingertip, and it was good that she came in when she did because in six months, it could have spread and she might be dead.
“My chin dropped because I was not expecting that,” she said.
Pontrich said she didn’t cry because she was in shock. She was supposed to go back to work that day, but instead, she went home and told her family.
“That’s when things started sinking in,” Rucker said. “When she called me, I could hear the fear, and she started crying and said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to die.’ Most people think cancer is a death sentence. You don’t know all the facts, and you jump to conclusions. I said, ‘You’re not going to die.’”
Her mom suggested she talk to Mary Anne Jordan of Seymour, a family friend who has battled breast cancer twice.
“I thought it would help her to talk to somebody,” Rucker said. “Mary Anne gave her some positive feedback.”
The next step was to schedule a biopsy to determine if the mass was cancer. A week after the mammogram and ultrasound, Pontrich went in for the biopsy.
“I went in there a nervous wreck,” she said.
She had no idea if the cancer had spread, what kind it was or if she was a carrier of a breast cancer gene.
Dr. LeAnn Stidham at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour performed the biopsy and confirmed it was cancer but told Pontrich she had done everything right so far.
“She said, ‘Honestly, you couldn’t have found it any earlier. You did exactly what you needed to do,’” Pontrich said. “That made me feel a ton better.”
Pontrich said she felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders, and she was much more at ease with what was going on because she had more information than she had before.
The next step was to meet with Dr. Amanda Dick at Schneck later that week. Dick ordered an MRI to see if the cancer had spread and had Pontrich do gene testing to determine if she was a carrier of breast cancer genes.
Dick also went through treatment plans that would work the best.
“The first thing that she had said was chemo, and I didn’t want to do chemo,” she said.
Not because she would lose her hair, but because she was afraid of the chemotherapy drugs making her sick.
“It doesn’t just kill the cancer cells. It kills everything,” she said. “And that was one thing that was scary as heck.”
Originally, the plan of attack was chemo, surgery and radiation, but when the pathology report from the biopsy and the MRI came back, it was the best news Pontrich could have received.
She was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. Although it had spread into surrounding breast tissue, it had not spread anywhere else in her body.
More than three weeks later, she learned she was not a carrier of the breast cancer genes she was tested for, decreasing her chance of having breast cancer again.
She then met with Dr. Dolores Olivarez, head of oncology at Schneck’s Don and Dana Myers Cancer Center, who recommended they see a breast cancer specialist at the Indiana University Simon Cancer Center for a second opinion.
At first, Pontrich didn’t want to mess with it because she just wanted to get the cancer out of her. But she decided to go to make sure she was getting all of the answers.
“Going up there, you’re not sure what you’re going to hear,” she said.
But the news she received was even better than she hoped. Dr. Bryan Schneider, an internist at the Simon Cancer Center, told her she didn’t need chemotherapy.
“I about jumped off the table I was so excited,” she said.
Rucker said she wanted one more person, Dr. Susan Chace Lottich of Community Hospital South in Greenwood, to see Pontrich before they made a final decision on treatment.
“I said, ‘Let’s go for it. Let’s cover every avenue,’” Pontrich said.
Lottich agreed chemo was not needed in Pontrich’s case. She said there were two options — lumpectomy and radiation or a mastectomy with no radiation.
She also told Pontrich that her cancer fed on estrogen and it was a slow-growing type, which is typically what older women have. That’s why they were able to spread the whole process out over about a four-month period, Rucker said.
Throughout the whole time, Pontrich continued to go to work every day at a local accounting firm.
“Even though I was going through all this, tax season took my mind off a lot of stuff,” she said.
Pontrich chose to have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy. Lottich performed the procedure April 11.
After having the tumor removed and reconstructive surgery, which took two and a half hours, Pontrich received the all-clear.
“I’m cancer-free. The only thing I have to do now is radiation,” she said.
But that won’t happen until she is healed from her surgery.
Sharing her story with others is not a way of seeking attention or sympathy, Pontrich said. In fact, she was only going to tell her mom and stepdad, Jim Rucker; dad, Don Pontrich; two younger sisters, Paige Pontrich and Tricia Richey; and her closest friends about the diagnosis.
“I’m not a person that likes the spotlight on me,” she said.
She didn’t put any news on social media and told only those she thought needed to know.
What changed her mind about telling people was the idea that her story might help another woman detect breast cancer early on and save her life.
“You don’t have to be a certain age to get this,” she said. “No matter what age you are, don’t assume you’re out of the woods on anything. Don’t ever think, ‘Well, I’m only 25’ or ‘I’m only 30.’ It does not matter.”
Pontrich’s family and friends have rallied around her, helping keep her spirits up. They also are helping her with medical expenses by conducting a fundraiser from 5 to 9 p.m. May 7 at Pizza Palace in Seymour.
Without the support of her loved ones, Pontrich said she doesn’t know how she would have gotten through the ordeal.
“My family was great from the very beginning,” she said. “They were always behind me.”
Pontrich said being diagnosed with breast cancer has made her look at things a lot differently.
“You don’t take life for granted anymore,” she said. “I’ve gotten closer with my family because of this. You just have a greater appreciation for everything in your life.”
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”If you go” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
What: Fundraiser to support Lauren Pontrich
When: 5 to 9 p.m. May 7
Where: Pizza Palace, 832 W. Tipton St., Seymour
Pizza Palace will donate 10 percent of all delivery or dine-in sales that day to the cause.
There will be prizes raffled off, a silent auction and a bake sale.
Patrick Boyd and Daniel Grube of Seymour will perform live music from 7 to 9 p.m.
To make a donation, contact Tricia Richey at 812-569-4181.
Donations also can be made at paypal.com/pools/c/83vpi43Wpw.