Why We Walk: an American Cancer Society Survivor Story


Two and a half years ago, after going for her regular mammogram, something was discovered. “They saw something they didn’t like. It wasn’t a lump. They just saw something that looked suspicious and needed further looking into,” said Butta. Because there was not a distinguishable lump, Butta was sent for a procedure called a core biopsy. “It’s a process by which they numb you and insert a needle that almost looks like an apple corer. When they pull it out, tissue is extracted and they can test it,” she explained.

Butta didn’t hear any news about the results until she received a letter from the imaging center telling her that further testing was needed. “When I called the imaging place to ask about the letter, they told me everything was fine and that the letter may have been sent in error,” she said. An hour later her doctor called. “I wasn’t expecting anything bad because they told me I was fine an hour ago.” Butta still remembers her doctor’s exact words: “I hate to tell you this over the phone, but it does mean cancer.” Butta was instructed to make an appointment with a surgeon and find out her options. At this point nobody knew the extent of the cancer. Butta said it takes a long time to get all the information and it can be a very stressful time.

“That was a Monday, and on Tuesday my husband and I went to the same surgeon at Good Samaritan Hospital in Rockland County that I had gone to 15 years before.” She remembered, “As luck would have it, he had an opening on the Friday of that same week.” Butta was told about her options, which included a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. After testing negative for the breast cancer gene, and with the doctor’s recommendation, Butta opted for a lumpectomy. As she described, “It was really more of a scooping out of the tissue since the cancer cells were there, but not in the form of a typical lump.” Prior to the surgery, Butta underwent a procedure in which a wire is inserted through the breast and a liquid is injected that highlights the cancer cells. Butta said it was almost the worst part of her cancer experience, and laughs, “I thought it was finally over when the technician said I did really well—we only have to do it three more times!”

When asked about handling the stress of going for tests and waiting for results, Butta responded, “I kind of surprised myself. I had a very matter-of-fact attitude. I said this is what it is, we have to fix it, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” She added, “I like to deal with facts and I couldn’t let it make me crazy.” She said of her friends and family, “Everyone thought I handled it well, but it wasn’t intentional, it was more like an automatic response. The first thing that came to mind is that I’m a mom and I just want to be here for my kids.” Butta said that at nine years old, she lost her mother to pancreatic cancer. “I wanted to be here for my children and I was going to fight and do what I needed to do. That was my attitude, but of course the support from my family and friends was invaluable.” She added, “Everybody handles things differently. My husband and my older son keep things inside.” She said laughing, “My younger son decided to post my diagnosis on his Facebook page before I told anyone. Needless to say, I got a lot of phone calls that day!”

After test results came back, there was a discrepancy between the surgeon and the imaging center about whether or not her cancer was invasive. It was determined to be invasive and was diagnosed as “ductal carcinoma in situ,” or DCIS. At the insistence of her family, Butta had her records sent to Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital. She was assured that the proper protocol was being followed by her local doctors. One more surgery was required for what is called a “cleaning of the margins” to ensure that any stray cancer cells are scooped away, followed by radiation treatment.

Butta was told that everything looked good. She made an appointment with Dr. Uma Mishra at Orange County Radiation Oncology in Cornwall to begin her 36 rounds of radiation. “His office is very calming,” she said, “and the people, even the other patients, were wonderful.” At the time, Butta was working as a bus driver for the Newburgh School District, and a baker at the Heritage Middle School Cafeteria. “I did my bus route in the morning, then went to my 15 minute radiation treatment, and then to the cafeteria.” She said it was not too hard and that she is thankful that she really didn’t have any side effects other than a little skin discoloration. “I had some concern about my physical appearance after the surgeries and the scarring. A lot of breast tissue was removed, but as of now I haven’t had any reconstructive surgery.” Butta began her treatments in December 2010 and ended them the following February.

Butta is currently on a regimen of Tomaxofin, has lost weight, and is eating healthy. She keeps up with her doctor appointments and maintains a busy and positive lifestyle. “I sometimes ask myself why I was so lucky. I see people who have been through so much worse with their recovery,” she said. “My own sister is currently fighting against lung cancer and breast cancer.”

Butta lives in New Windsor with her husband and two sons. She currently works as a school bus driver for South Middle School, Temple Hill Academy, and New Windsor School, and is a longtime Tupperware representative. Butta is excited to be participating for the first time in this year’s Relay for Life event, which will be held on Saturday, June 8 and 9th at Cronomer Hill Park in Newburgh.

 By Michele Wing via the Sentinel and special courtesy of the 2013 Relay for Life Event Organizers