Why I made breast cancer my life’s work


A woman with no hair, eyebrows or eyelashes. A woman who was once referred to as pretty, but now loathed herself when she looked in the mirror. That woman was me. 

One would think that after going through 14 months of breast cancer treatment, I would have been in a hurry to leave hospitals and disease behind me; get on with my life as if it was all a bad dream.

The truth, as any breast cancer survivor will probably tell you, is that you can never completely put it behind you. It becomes a big part of who you are, and it shapes the way you look at the future. 

When I emerged from treatment, I truly did not know where I fit in. Sure, I had my husband and my three daughters at the center of my universe, but I did not feel like the person I was before cancer. I was not comfortable in my own skin. I struggled with what I had lost, and I realized that although I had witnessed many people in my life fight this disease, I never really understood the havoc it wreaked on a person mentally and emotionally until I went through it myself.

Now I understood not just from what happened to me but what I witnessed all around me every week as I sat in the infusion room, the thin drape doing little to muffle the voices of women sharing with their caregiver what was happening in their lives due to breast cancer. I was enraged that this disease not only took women’s breasts, but it was capable of shattering their relationships, stealing their self esteem, manipulating their cognitive ability and bankrupting them financially.

While I shared many of those heartbreaks with the other women, one of the injustices I was spared was the financial toxicity. I was able to get through treatment without it affecting my family’s financial security, thus allowing me the opportunity to concentrate on getting well physically and emotionally, without having to make the choice of paying the mortgage or having an expensive treatment.

So I began to advocate for women with this disease who could not advocate for themselves, and that advocacy led me to form a non-profit, Infinite Strength, which makes medical treatments and comfort care costs financially accessible for women with breast cancer.

I have been asked many times over the last few years if it is hard to deal with cancer every day. If it would not have been better for me to just walk away from cancer all together. The fact of the matter is that I was spared. I got through this disease, and came out believing in my own strength. Through that strength I found my voice, and I use it to help make other women’s cancer treatment experience more positive. 

Is it hard emotionally some days? Yes. But it is a lot harder to be the patients — losing control of what is happening not just to their bodies but to their lives.

I always heard that women who have come through breast cancer are bound together by a connection. I can now say no words have ever been more true. I feel a deep bond with women I have never met but who reach out through emails and social channels. Our understanding of the scars we are left with after this disease binds us together without being blood relatives. We cheer each other on, we cry with each other, we celebrate small victories and we lend each other our strength.

Sometimes, life takes you in a direction you never wanted to go in, puts you on a path that seems filled with darkness. But if you are lucky, you find your way back into the light, and you realize you are right where you are meant to be.

Dana Putzer