DEARBORN - As breast cancer awareness month comes to a close Oct. 31, stories of how members of the Ford community have battled the disease act as reminders of how delicate life is and how strong we can be when we face seemingly insurmountable challenges as a team.
Just before Labor Day in 2011, two friends shared some scary news with Ford Commercial Truck Vehicle Integration specialist Csilla Gutay. First, her neighbor Donna informed her that she was going in for a lumpectomy that Friday. Then her best friend Patty Arthur, late wife of Ford Design Engineer Tom Joseph, called to tell Gutay she was being scheduled for a lumpectomy. “Patty’s routine mammogram showed a cyst in her breast,” said Joseph. “The cyst was said to be benign, but it kept getting larger so Patty had a second mammogram. Her doctor scheduled a biopsy,” said Joseph.
One year later in the summer of 2012 the friends were celebrating the completion of Patty’s radiation and hoping for a full recovery when the unthinkable happened. Patty was diagnosed with “Recurrent Breast Cancer” almost exactly one year later – the day she and Tom were going to dinner to celebrate their 21st wedding anniversary.
“It was Labor Day weekend and we had planned a trip to the family cottage in Northern Michigan. That trip forever changed our lives,” said Joseph.
Sadly, Patty passed away on November, 15, 2012 at just 45. “Someone asked a question about the best day with Patty,” said Joseph. “Every day was the best day with Patty. She was an amazing and beautiful woman,” Joseph said.
To honor her friends Donna and Patty, Gutay formed the Motor City Dragons dragon boat team. Dragon boat racing originated in China more than 2000 years ago, and, according to a study conducted by Donald C. McKenzie, MD, PhD. who first recruited 24 breast cancer survivors and formed a dragon boat team in Vancouver, Canada in 1996, the sport helps breast cancer survivors regain the range of motion in their arms, upper-body strength and endurance.
Motor City Dragons is comprised of breast cancer survivors and supporters. Since its inception in 2013, the team has won medals at three festivals – Lake Orion (bronze), Toronto (silver), and Cleveland (gold).
“Patty was never one who wanted to make a big deal about anything. She did not like being in the spotlight, but I think she would be pleased that Csilla is doing this in her honor,” said Joseph. “I think it is absolutely great and I am big supporter,” said Joseph
Stories shared by breast cancer survivors continue to inspire us all. Following are additional stories from Ford employees who are also Motor City Dragons team members.
Stephanie McKireby Michelle Smart
During a routine self-breast exam in August 2011, Stephanie McKire noticed an abnormality in her breast. In December, she went in for her normal yearly mammogram. As it turned out, the appointment was anything but normal. McKire’s doctor confirmed the abnormality and recommended additional (Stephanie McKire – right) tests including an MRI and a biopsy.
Two months later, in February 2012, McKire heard the words no one ever wants to hear---‘you have Stage 3 breast cancer.’
“It was quite a shock,” said McKire, an STA Program Engineer at Ford’s Product Development Center in Dearborn, Mich.
“Even though I felt an abnormality, I did not think it was breast cancer; I thought it was calcium deposits or, perhaps, fatty tissue,” she said.
For McKire, life as she knew it was about to change. “After the initial diagnosis, I had to come up with a plan on how I wanted to address this and how I would manage my life post treatment,” said McKire. Whatever the decision, she had to be prepared to follow through with the options she chose.
McKire’s treatment began quickly. She had a lumpectomy in mid-February, followed by radiation treatments for five consecutive days, twice per day.
McKire received assistance from organizations like the American Cancer Society who arranged to have a driver pick her up from her home. “The driver picked me up from my home, waited for me until my treatments were done and then took me back home. Six hours later, another driver would come to my home and the process would start all over again,” said McKire.
McKire said having breast cancer has made her more health conscious. This year, she joined the Motor City Dragons team and was on the survivor boat that came in first place, winning the gold, in Cleveland, Ohio this past summer. “We had to work hard to win that gold medal,” McKire said. “We believed we could win it and we put forth the effort. We won it as a team and that is exactly how you get through breast cancer---as a team,” said McKire.
Jeri Lynn Shami
American Cancer Society guidelines recommend yearly mammograms for women beginning at age 40. Ford Credit Funding Specialist, Jeri Lynn Shami (pictured right), followed the recommended guidelines. “I went in for my baseline mammogram the year I celebrated my 40th birthday,” said Shami.
In 2003, just before the Christmas holiday, Shami’s doctor ordered a biopsy that revealed breast cancer. “It was something that I had not expected. No one expects that kind of diagnosis,”
Shami was determined to win the battle against breast cancer. She endured a number of chemo treatments that included enrolling into a study where two of the most common chemo drugs were combined to aggressively attack the cancer cells. After chemo, Shami underwent a series of radiation treatments. There were also blood transfusions. “My white blood cells were zero, so I had to get a couple of blood transfusions,” Shami said.
Shami is now cancer free. “I’m doing fabulous,” Shami said. “I was blessed to be a Ford employee during my treatment. It was humbling as to how many people would stop or send notes. The Ford team was there for me throughout the whole thing,” Shami said.
Last year, Shami joined the Motor City Dragons dragon boat team and was on the survivor team that won the gold in Cleveland this past summer. “It is really cool to be part of the Motor City Dragons. It is really shocking that I am doing something like this,” said Shani who, other than dabbling in martial arts in college, was never active in any sport.
“You are around amazing people who have either battled, or supported people who have battled different kinds of cancers. Being around them is a special blessing; a kind of energy that makes being on the team so much fun,” said Shami.
Stacy Menda-Brege’s battle with breast cancer began when her youngest son was just 18 months old; the oldest was in third grade. At 37, she was diagnosed with Stage 2/Stage 3 hormone receptive breast cancer. “When you are younger, you can get hormone receptive cancers. That means the cancer cells are actually feeding on the hormones in your body,” said Menda-Brege.
Menda-Brege, a Ford D & R Engineer in the Troy Design & Manufacturing division, immediately took charge of her life. “I insisted on an incisional biopsy,” she said. “Right now, I am a person with cancer; years from now, I want to be the person without cancer, “said Menda-Brege.
Things moved pretty quickly. Within two weeks of being diagnosed with breast cancer, Menda-Brege underwent eight hours of surgery. “As soon as the surgeon opened me up, she could tell that it was cancer,” said Menda-Brege. There were two surgeons in the operating room: one to perform the bilateral mastectomy, and the other to perform breast reconstruction.
Menda-Brege’s post-surgery treatment plan included eight cycles of Chemo scheduled 21 days apart and seven weeks of radiation. Friends and family members stepped in to help with her children. “Because my resistance was so low, a cold virus could have been fatal,” Menda-Brege said. “My best friend, who had a son close to my oldest son’s age, would come out on Friday afternoon and take my son for the weekend. That is a true friend,” said Menda-Brege.
Today, Menda-Brege is the person she wanted to be when she started her journey: the person without breast cancer. “I am clean and I go see my oncologist every six months,” she said.
Menda-Brege is involved with non-profit organizations like the American Cancer Society and recently volunteered for the annual Cattle Barron’s Ball. She is also a member of the Motor City Dragons dragon boat team. “I think it is wonderful that Csilla (Gutay) started the Motor City Dragons. When you have had cancer, specifically breast cancer, it offers a way to bond people together.”
Towards the end of her treatment, someone asked Menda-Brege what she learned about herself having come through all of this. “I am exactly who I thought I was,” said Menda-Brege. “It could be the engineer in me, but I handled everything the way I thought I would, and, today, I am that person without breast cancer,” she said.