Facing cancer with a fight and a smile

By: Megan Wood The Press Tribune
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Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles celebrating breast cancer survivors in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month during October. One look at Janelle Bento and you’d be sure the petite, pretty blonde had little in life to worry about. But you’d be wrong. “You would never know from looking at me that I’m sick,” Bento said. “I think that’s one thing that surprises most people and what still makes me stop and think every day. I’ll be in line at Starbucks and wonder what people are going through.” Bento first discovered a lump in her breast at age 35. Concerned, but with no family history of cancer, she made an appointment for a mammogram and ultrasound. Test results showed the lump was a swollen milk duct and doctors told Bento not to worry. Within a year the lump had grown and began to protrude through the skin. Now more concerned, Bento returned to have another mammogram and ultrasound performed. This time in addition to the 6 centimeter mass that doctors had originally believed to be a swollen milk duct, doctors found another mass in Bento’s breast that had them requesting a biopsy of both masses. “The doctor called me while I was driving and said ‘I need you to pull over.’ I knew at that point what he was going to say,” Bento said. “He said he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that it was cancer but the good news was it was in the early stages, it was localized, non-invasive and that with radiation I’d be fine.” Bento underwent surgery in May 2007 to remove both masses as well as five lymph nodes, all of which doctors said were clean and showed no traces of cancer. After six and a half weeks of radiation, Bento was given a clean bill of health. “I’ve always been very active, I go to the gym and generally take really good care of myself,” Bento said. “I had gotten back into going to the gym when I began feeling pain in my lower back. I thought I had pinched a disk or messed up my back somehow.” After several doctor’s appointments and x-rays coming back with no clues to the cause of the pain, Bento’s doctor ordered an MRI. The images from Bento’s MRI showed indications that the breast cancer that doctors had initially deemed non-invasive and localized had spread to Bento’s pelvis, right femur and lungs. “Suddenly I had gone from remission to stage 4 metastatic breast cancer,” said Bento who was diagnosed earlier this year. “There is no cure so this is something I’ll deal with for the rest of my life.” Doctors requested the files from Bento’s lumpectomy in 2007 and found that one of the five lymph nodes was in fact, infected causing the cancer to move through Bento’s body to her bones. “Obviously you don’t want it to move outside the breast, but they say if you can keep the cancer in your bones you have a better chance at living,” Bento said. “But you have to keep it out of your organs.” Rigorous rounds of radiation therapy have alleviated the pain and helped stop the cancer from growing and slow the spread, but it has also obliterated Bento’s chances of having children by shutting down her ovaries and forcing her into early menopause. “It sounds weird but everything I’ve ever wanted in life happened after I was diagnosed with cancer,” Bento said. Having never married, Bento said one thing she feared most was whether she would find love or a meaningful relationship with cancer. “I now have a great man in my life who is there by my side and will hold my hand through it all,” Bento said. “I have friends, family and co-workers who have been a great source of support and strength.” The most important lesson of all, Bento said, is a new outlook on life. “I live my life now in three month increments, between testing to see if the cancer has grown or spread,” Bento said. “Having cancer really makes you stop and appreciate a sunset, to look for the positive in life because maybe the economy sucks but at least I’m alive to see it and that’s all that matters.”