Reveille Camper: Lisa Schwanderla's Story of Survival

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Joan Lunden

Stories of Courage /

Campers w  reveille sign copy
Linda and Lisa at Camp Reveille 2014

Camp Reveille 2014 was a special year for me. As I navigated my own breast cancer journey, the love and support coming from Reveille's strong group of women was empowering. There were also more campers who were breast cancer survivors than any other summer and I gained so much strength by listing to their stories.

Reveille camper and breast cancer survivor, Lisa Schwanderla shared her story with me about being diagnosed at only 35 years young. 22 months after her first child, Lisa was at an appointment to check a cyst she had found in her breast during a self-exam. The doctors scheduled a biopsy, which ultimately came back positive for cancer.  Here is Lisa’s story… 

My name is Lisa Schwanderla, I am 48 years old and I have been married to my wonderful husband for 21 years. We have a beautiful 13-year-old daughter, Jaclyn and a 3-year-old Border Collie Lab named Coco.

I had my first mammogram at the age of 35 (women are usually told to get their first mammos at 40) because I had found a cyst in one of my breast after breast-feeding and was told to get it checked.  While at my appointment my doctor found something they described to me as a Sunburst and because of the abnormality of this so called Sunburst I was told to schedule a follow up mammogram. After a biopsy was performed, it was confirmed to be a malignant tumor or as the doctors would say, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December of 2002; one month shy of my 36th birthday.

When I heard my doctor speak those dreaded 4 words no one ever wants to hear “you have breast Cancer” my world stopped. I had just had my first child, my husband and I were planning on trying for a second and I was only 35 years old! I immediately asked “what are we going to do to get rid of it? What do I do next?” 

After multiple meetings with many oncologist’s and gathering countless opinions on how to move forward, my husband and I decided that opting for a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation was the best form of treatment for my prognosis. Test after test, the doctors came to the conclusion that a mastectomy wasn’t mandatory because after removing my sentinel node and testing the cells under an Immuno Histo Chemistry stain test (IHC) I had less than 10 cancerous cell left inside.

Since I was young and followed a healthy lifestyle my Oncologist suggested I go with a treatment they call the Pink Cocktail (at that time the only pink cocktail I wanted was a Cosmopolitan!), so I agreed. Now let me tell you, that pink cocktail was strong stuff and my treatment wasn’t a walk in the park, but I stayed hydrated, ate a healthy diet, and listened to my body.

At the time of my diagnosis my daughter was 22 months old. I had to be strong and fight, I wanted to be around to watch her grow up and grow old alongside my husband - I had my family to live for. Some days were better than others, but I did my best to trudge through. I had a lot of support from my friends and family. They came with me to chemo treatments, helped out with Jaclyn, cooked for us or sent us food. The unconditional love and support was always there, but I continued to pray for strength to help me get through it all.   

I was able to keep my routine of work and exercise as long as my body would allow. I did not want to change my daily activities too much. I remember after a few chemo treatments I would see my hair start to fall out on my pillow, clothes, the floor, etc… I didn’t want to see myself lose my hair so I decided to go to a salon, shave it off and get a wig. I picked a wig that looked similar to my original style. It was made of real hair, not synthetic and looked very natural. No one knew, until I lost my eyelashes, though I never lost my eyebrows. The only positive thing I can say about chemo is that I didn’t have to shave my legs or anything else for that matter. I had baby smooth skin!!

It is now 12 years later and I am cancer free and healthy. I still have my mammograms once a year and see my oncologist every three months. I am blessed to have had the doctors, surgeons, friends and family that helped me through a very difficult time in my life.

I also wanted to share my experience at Camp Reveille this past summer. I attended Reveille for the first time with my very good friend, Linda and what a wonderful time we had! There were so many different activities to choose from as well as many breakout sessions. I enjoyed all the exercise classes, nutrition classes, climbing the climbing wall, getting a massage and facial, jewelry making etc… I met wonderful ladies, had lots of fun in the relay race and built a cardboard boat that we raced on Long Lake. The food throughout the day was healthy and enjoyed every meal. I plan to go again next year and bring a bunch of friends.

I am thankful that I had the experience. It actually came at a time when I really needed to get away and have fun!! I hope to see all the wonderful ladies I met next year!!!

About The Author
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Joan Lunden truly exemplifies today’s modern working woman. An award-winning journalist, bestselling author, motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, one of America’s most recognized and trusted television personalities, this mom of seven continues to do it all. As host of Good Morning America for nearly two decades, Lunden brought insight to top issues for millions of Americans each day. The longest running host ever on early morning television, Lunden reported from 26 countries, covered 4 presidents and 5 Olympics and kept Americans up to date on how to care for their homes, their families and themselves.

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