VeraAnn Bilardi

Monte and I have been together for about 12 years—three years of this was a long distance relationship. He was living in Florida and I in New York. We traveled back and forth to see each other as people kept whispering, "it will never work, distance never does." Monte was working for Harley Davidson at the time and was their top salesman. I was working for one of the top I.T. employment agencies in New York for 23 years as a Manager and Sr. Technical Recruiter for the finance industry. I was earning a very good living and had finally met the man that I could see spending the rest of my life with. I’d never met anyone like him and never had the same feeling for anyone else like I had for him. 
As much as I wanted children—I knew I was missing this window—I did enjoy being around Monte's kids. It all just felt right. New Year’s Eve of 2005, Monte proposed to me. We planned a beautiful engagement party. Monte was still in Florida, but being the gentleman that he is and not wanting to take me away from my family, he moved to New York in 2006—a true sacrifice as he hates the cold weather and loves Florida. 
Our engagement party was June of 2006. We figured we would take some time and save some money before we booked a wedding. While everyone kept asking us, "when is the date," one of my worst nightmares was about to come true; my very healthy boss, out of nowhere, got diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and closed the doors of our company in 2008 and passed away a few months later. This was all very traumatic for me. So, there I was without a job for the first time in my life after being with the same firm for 23 years. The job market at the time was very hard. Since I could do my business from home, I formed my own corporation and decided to try it to work for myself. Knowing that most agencies were not giving benefits due to the economy, I had to start paying for my own benefits. Needless to say, this depleted the money I had saved for years, and it just got worse and worse. I tried to hook up with as many agencies as I could for work but still there was not a lot of job opportunities. 
In the meantime, Monte's business was also down so we continued to struggle and struggle. He also had two hospital stays, one in 2011 and one in 2013. I went through my retirement savings and had to take a penalty for that as well. Also, I went through my refinance savings. Everything was gone. Every day I would just pray for a placement in order to pay my bills. So, as everyone continued to ask for a wedding date, I would just smile and say, "we haven't gotten to it yet!" I would always repeat, though, that "nothing is that bad, as long as you have your health."  I was very healthy, ate well, was very active, and had loads of energy. But I had a lot of stress. I come from very good genes from both my mother and father—no diseases.
I started my mammograms at the appropriate age at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and never missed one year. One night in February of 2014 I went to sleep like usual with no issues, but woke up with a golf ball-sized growth sticking out of my left breast. At first I thought, "this is nothing, it was always here."  But I knew it really was not. I just thought it was hormonal and let it go for two months thinking it would go down with each menstrual period, but it did not. In April, I went back to the doctor who just did a breast exam on me and he was shocked to see this. He told me it was probably a cyst and that I would need to have it aspirated. I went for the ultrasound and could tell by just reading the doctor's face that it was not a cyst. She told me there was a problem and told me I also had an enlarged lymph node. I knew nothing about this so I immediately started to Google my symptoms and drove myself crazy.
A few days later as my Mom sat in the waiting room, I went for the biopsy and heard the words "You have ‘it’ and it's also in a node." I didn't cry; I remained strong because I had to go out and tell my Mom who was sitting in the waiting room with her rosary beads. Monte went to tell my Dad because he knew something was wrong when I wasn't answering my phone. He cried like a baby for hours. My only thought was, "what did I do wrong?" My diet consisted of salmon and vegetables, fruit, no red meat and chicken caesar salads. I blamed it on my love for pizza and a glass of wine that I would have at night to calm me from all the stress that I was dealing with. Breast cancer was not in my family so why is this all happening to me? What about my job? I can't move on with my fiancee now that I am sick.  How would I ever get through any of this? I’ve just heard about cancer but never thought it could happen to me. Why didn't NYU take sonograms (they do now) knowing I had very dense breasts and why, when they saw calcifications in my left breast, did they not look in to it? These were the thoughts racing in my mind, but I knew there was no answer that was going to change what I was about to face.
I did my research; I found a top notch surgeon, oncologist and plastic surgeon. After meeting with the surgeon I knew he was the only one that I wanted to operate on me. He was everything everyone said about him. When he told me I had invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC), that only 10 to 15% of women have this type of cancer, and that my tumor was 6 cms, I became numb. When he told me I would need chemotherapy first, my heart sank. I was known to be the "girl with the hair," long blonde streaks down to my waist and now I knew what was coming. How could I deal with this? My hair was so special to me, but like my job and my boss, it was all being taken away from me. 
When you don't have a choice in your life, you do what you need to do. There I was in the chair with my very long hair in pony tails, each one getting snipped off and all of a sudden I looked like a boy. This is when I cried; it all surfaced. My sister-in-law and cousin then took me to get a wig, a wig that the insurance company told me they would pay for. It took eight months for my insurance company to pay me for the wig while I had to make endless phone calls and write numerous letters. 
Monte was with me through every chemo treatment. The first day I just cried going in that room, I was so scared. I do feel very blessed that I did sail through the chemo very well and never got sick. Maybe it’s because I did lead such a healthy life; who knows? I finished the chemo in November 2014 but had to wait until January to have surgery due to having to change my insurance in order to get my surgeon, which of course cost more money, but once again, I felt I had no choice. My surgery went very well. The M.R.I. pryor showed no sign of cancer and that the chemo wiped it all away. But the pathology report showed a 3 cm tumor and three positive nodes, although very little cancer was in the nodes. I did have clean margins.  
My family has been right by my side the entire time. My mom never left the hospital for four days when I got sick from the pain medicine and had to stay in the hospital. Monte has been my Rock; he’s been with me to every doctor's appointment, everything. 
I have also had radiation and I have been on Tamoxifen for two years now. I feel like it never ends, but, yet I am grateful because it could be so much worse. I was getting hit with co-pays all over the place and just continued to struggle financially. I wonder why Monte and I can't get a break. I just tell myself I’ve had some pretty bad luck but there is something waiting for me after all of this. I truly believe in Hope and never give up on anything. Like all of us, I get my days of flashbacks and feeling scared of every ache and pain but I try to turn every negative in to a positive!