A Message of Hope & Awareness

Associate uses battle against breast cancer to inform others
Woman posing for photo outdoors in front of garden
21
Oct '21

There is a calmness about Sarah Coletti that belies the courageous battle she has waged against an insidious cancer that did its best to take her by surprise. Staring at a scary diagnosis, Sarah stood her ground, fought back, and has emerged determined to inspire others to do the same.

“There are a lot of blessings in my story,” says Sarah, who joined Benchmark Senior Living as a community relations specialist three years ago. Today, she works at Branches of Marlboro. 

Yes, Sarah’s story.  And there is no better time to tell it than during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Soon after turning 40, Sarah scheduled a routine mammogram to screen for breast cancer. There was no family history, and therefore no reason for concern, she thought. An outdoors enthusiast with two children, Sarah considered canceling her appointment. With the weight of a pandemic hovering over her, it just didn’t seem a priority. As fate would have it, she kept it – marking the beginning of a journey Sarah never expected to take.

The mammogram showed calcification in her right breast, which can be an indicator of stage 0 cancer, otherwise known as early-stage ductal carcinoma (DCIS). It was nothing to be alarmed about, she was told. Just to be sure, her radiologist ordered a biopsy.

And that’s where her story takes a turn.

The biopsy uncovered DCIS throughout her breast. But statistics were on Sarah’s side and her long-term prognosis was excellent. Still, there were difficult decisions to be made. The option of a mastectomy was one. But after much research, Sarah decided to focus on active surveillance and a change in lifestyle.

Sarah’s confidence remained buoyed because, aside from an aunt years so, there was no family history of breast cancer. To be sure, her doctor ordered genetic testing. When the results came back, Sarah was floored. It was positive for the presence of BRCA1, meaning her risk of developing breast cancer by the time she turns 80 was at 72 percent, much higher than the 13 percent lifetime risk for the average person. For Sarah, this meant that the active surveillance approach and change in lifestyle were not enough. Her motherly instincts kicked in - that inherent drive to be there for her family.

“I am going to be who I am,” thought Sarah.

For Sarah, being “who I am,” means a commitment to her profession. Sarah spends her days at several Benchmark properties in Massachusetts, serving in sales, marketing, and community outreach and training newly hired community relation specialists.

“I love my job,” she says. “Helping families find answers and see their loved ones blossom once they establish residency is one of the best things in the world to me. I love finding out all about them and what makes their family tick.”

Outside of work, Sarah’s fight has been fueled by a determination to continue doing those things that bring her joy, such as hikes, her children’s ball games, and family trips. And of course, preparing family meals.

“I don’t bake, but I love to cook,” says Sarah with a laugh. “I love to cook big meals. I smoke a mean fish, and meat.”

Sarah’s resolve readied her for this fight. While the options grew more difficult along the way, so did her strength. Rather than a single mastectomy, Sarah chose to have a double mastectomy with immediate reconstructive surgery to treat her right breast and prevent cancer from developing in her left breast. Because BRCA1 is also associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer, she decided to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes as well. To Sarah, it was about fighting back and reducing the risks of cancer going forward.

Sarah’s aggressive approach finds her winning her fight. Today, there is no evidence of existing cancer and her medical team is confident that her risk of recurrence is low. She is pleased with the results of her reconstructive surgery.

It is a lifelong fight, Sarah knows. She is taking hormone-blocking medication. She is living on her terms. And always looking to help others. Sarah has informed extended family members about her experience, encouraging them to follow the same genetic testing that she did, so, if necessary, they too can ready themselves for a fight.

“I feel like telling my story is so important, and so is making this normal to talk about,” she says. “If I had not gone for a biopsy, I don’t know where I would be. So, get your mammograms. And find out if you have a history.”