Cathy Stiller’s cancer diagnosis came just days before her wedding
- Last Updated: 4:04 AM, October 13, 2011
- Posted: 10:57 PM, October 11, 2011
It was 26 days before Cathy Stiller’s wedding. Her days were consumed with dress fittings, last-minute details and “working out like a madwoman,” Stiller laughs.
But that day, May 10, 2010, Stiller also learned she had breast cancer.
Stiller’s diagnosis came six months after she found a lump in one breast in November 2009.
“I called two hospitals and no one would see me because I was 27,” says Stiller, now 29. A few weeks later, after a fine-needle aspiration of the lump, the doctor told her it was a cyst. But Cathy’s mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43, kept pestering the bride-to-be to see a breast surgeon.
When Stiller finally got the dreaded diagnosis that May day. she cried until her mother, sister and fiancé arrived at the hospital. “By then,” she says, “I was ready to fight.”
The weeks leading up to the wedding were filled with tests to determine the severity of the cancer. “In hindsight, it was good it was days before my wedding,” says Stiller. “I had less time to think about what would come. ”
Only a few close friends and family were told. “Somehow I just blocked it [the cancer]. It was by far the best day ever.”
Almost a week after her wedding, Stiller underwent a double mastectomy at Hackensack University Medical Center, performed by Dr. Marson Davidson. This was followed by 98 days of chemotherapy treatments at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
“I was the youngest with breast cancer by 30 or 40 years,” she says.
Stiller asked the nurses to take a picture of her at each chemo session. The photos document a smiling face and an indomitable spirit. (Go to youtube.com to see an inspiring video of Stiller’s journey.)
“This has changed my life,” she says. “It made me a stronger, happier person. I learned not to sweat the small stuff.”
So moved was she by her cancer experience that Stiller switched careers and started working for the American Cancer Society in Queens, urging others to seek early screening. Currently finishing her master’s degree in health education at Columbia University, Stiller started working for the Society on June 7, her birthday.
“I feel it is a sign,” she says. “My birthday for me is huge. Every milestone now I appreciate so much more. You don’t know when it will be your last.” — Diane Herbst