Regional Cancer Center ~ Erie, PA

RCC Volunteer Thriving 34 Years After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Nov 02, 2015 | Posted in News


Orinda Pulice was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1981, before there were mammogram screenings, targeted radiation or even a Regional Cancer Center.

Thirty-four years later, the Millcreek Township woman is one of the region's longest-living breast cancer survivors. She leads an active life, volunteering at the Cancer Center and celebrating her 60th wedding anniversary.

"The reason I'm still alive is the will to live, the expertise of my doctors and my faith," said Pulice, 80.

Women used to consider breast cancer a death sentence. The overall five-year survival rate was around 75 percent when Pulice was diagnosed, and much lower if the cancer had spread outside the breast.

Pulice's cancer had spread to four nearby lymph nodes.

"At that time, cancer had such a bad reputation," Pulice said. "If you got diagnosed, that was it for you."

But Peter Scibetta, M.D., Pulice's original oncologist and RCC co-founder, told her that treatments were available.

Pulice had the tumor and lymph nodes removed. Fortunately, no other cancer was detected, Pulice said.

"I got nine months of chemotherapy, 30 doses of radiation and a radium implant on the side of my breast near by my left arm," Pulice said. "I didn't get a mastectomy, though."

She underwent her treatments in the basement of the former Hamot Medical Center. The RCC wasn't built until 1987.

The treatments were rough, Pulice said. Chemotherapy made her nauseous, and there weren't the anti-nausea drugs now available.

Her hair fell out.

"Within a few months, the radium implant affected my left arm," Pulice said. "The nerves were damaged from the shoulder to the elbow, and ever since I haven't had much use of that arm."

The chemotherapy and radiation did knock out the cancer, though Pulice was diagnosed with a different type of cancer in her right breast about nine years after her original diagnosis.

Pulice survived for several reasons, said her current RCC oncologist, Jan Rothman, M.D.

"Her cancer was found at an early stage," Rothman said. "Her treatment was effective, too. She also has been good about coming back every year for her checkups."

Though Pulice does not have a mutated BRCA gene that increases her risk of breast cancer, two of her daughters were diagnosed with the disease.

Melanie Malyuk, Pulice's youngest daughter, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 and died in 2012 at 49. Michele Pulice, her oldest daughter, was diagnosed in 2013 and is 59.

"That was tough," Pulice said, referring to Malyuk's death. "I blamed myself."

Pulice doesn't stay down for long, though. She frequently helps all types of cancer patients as a RCC volunteer, talking with them as they wait for treatment and encouraging them to continue their fight.

"Orinda is such an emotionally gifted person," Rothman said. "She feels the need to give back to the RCC and the community. She is so selfless."

Pulice said she will continue to volunteer at the RCC every other Monday for as long as she can do it.

She doesn't dwell on her own battle with breast cancer, but it is never far from her mind.

"I think about it every day, because I have no use of my arm," Pulice said. "That's just the way it is."

Source: David Bruce, Erie Times-News

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