88 Special Section~Karmanos PINK OUT THE PARK SURVIVORStories Leanne Podwoiski Chosen to Throw Ceremonial “First Pitch” Leanne Podwoiski of Garden City, Mich., was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. She was a young mom who always took care of herself and ate properly. She did not have a family history of breast cancer, as most diagnosed with this disease don’t. “I was 34 years of age and I was enjoying being a mom to my two daughters who were ages 9 and 3 at the time I was diagnosed,” said Podwoiski. “Cancer was the last thing on my radar screen. Hearing that word was devastating and terrifying. I wanted to see my children grow up and I did everything I could to make that happen.” Podwoiski found a lump which turned out to be stage 2-b breast cancer. She had a Innovative Health - Summer 2016 lumpectomy and treatment. Then, in 2004, while on vacation, she felt something that wasn’t quite right. When she returned from her vacation, a biopsy confirmed that the cancer had returned. Podwoiski had a mastectomy of her left breast and six months of treatment. By that time, she was 41. In 2008, Podwoiski was having lower back pain and her doctor decided to do a bone scan. The scan showed that the cancer had spread to her spine, making it stage 4. Her physician suggested that she see Lawrence Flaherty, M.D., a medical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. Karmanos Cancer Institute, a subsidiary of McLaren Health Care, is one of 45 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the country with access to the latest cancer treatments. Podwoiski has been treated at Karmanos ever since and, as she expressed, she feels that Dr. Flaherty and she are “partners” in her care. Cancer, especially stage 4 metastatic diseases, presents new challenges. “So many times people will ask me, ‘how are you doing?’ but what many don’t realize is for those of us who are battling stage 4 metastatic cancer, we are always in treatment. There is no cure for metastatic disease,” said Podwoiski. “Raising awareness and encouraging prevention and early detection is very important and needed but so too is funding for cancer research, so when the treatment I’m currently on stops working, there will be another new option that just may work until the next new treatment is discovered.” The experts at Karmanos work closely with each patient to find the treatments that are the most effective with less toxicity. And, Karmanos, being a comprehensive cancer center, has access to many new treatments and clinical trials not generally available at other hospitals. In June 2015, Dr. Flaherty noticed a change in Podwoiski’s cancer. It was no longer responding to the treatment that had been successful for several years. Dr. Flaherty ordered a biopsy and also did molecular testing to determine what changes were occurring with Podwoiski’s disease. The results showed that her cancer did change and it had also spread to her liver. Podwoiski had what’s referred to as a “receptor flip”, meaning her cancer went from being estrogen positive to Her2 positive and estrogen negative, requiring a different treatment altogether. Podwoiski has been on a new treatment regimen now for nearly a year and is responding well. “I believe having a good attitude and staying positive does help in your day-to-day quality of life but you also need a great medical team working for you. “I’m truly grateful to Dr. Flaherty and the team at Karmanos Cancer Institute for their expertise, attentiveness and relentless determination to advance science so that there can be new cancer treatments that will help manage my disease so I can concentrate on enjoying life with my family.” Podwoiski is now age 53. She and her husband Don have two beautiful adult daughters who were both at this year’s Pink Out the Park on Mother’s Day to see their mom throw out the Ceremonial First Pitch.
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