Editor's Note: Look each Monday in October for @Ford Online to profile some more of Ford's own breast cancer survivors…the company's very own Warriors.
DEARBORN - Since 1995 when both her mother and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer, Ford Safety Development Engineer Alicia Grazioli has lived with the fear that one day the same thing might happen to her. Because of her strong family history, she has had a mammogram each year since she turned 30 and she started having annual MRIs when she neared 40.
"It's scary every time, but my mom was 47 when she was diagnosed so even though it makes no sense, it was in my head that I wouldn't really have to worry until I was 47," said Grazioli, who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year at the age of 41.
“Even though I had it in my head that maybe it would happen to me someday, you’re never ready to be told that you have breast cancer,” she said.
Grazioli had a mammogram in November of 2009 that showed no sign of the disease. But an MRI the following August revealed a tumor that turned out to be cancerous.
“So many questions rush through your head when you hear the word ‘cancer’ like ‘Where do we go from here? What doctors do I need to see?’” said Grazioli. “And then things are never the same again after that.”
Ironically, just five days before she received the diagnosis Grazioli had taken part in the 60-mile, three-day Komen Race for the Cure.
“We spent three days walking past all these signs talking about statistics and walking behind people who had pictures on their t-shirts of loved ones who had died,” she said. “I finished the walk on Sunday and was diagnosed on Friday.”
Grazioli’s cancer was diagnosed at Stage 1 but she was told that her particular cancer is aggressive and fast-growing. She had a lumpectomy in September of 2010, spent October through January undergoing eight rounds of chemotherapy and then did six weeks of daily radiation treatments from February through April of this year.
“I just never felt well. Food didn’t taste right, and you get to a point where you’re just physically exhausted,” she said. “Then you pile on top of that losing your hair. Your skin turns a weird color, and your eyebrows fall out. You just start feeling like what else could they possibly do to me.”
And unlike some cancer patients who lose weight as a result of treatment, Grazioli gained weight, which made her feel even worse.
“Everybody thinks cancer patients lose weight and lot of times they don’t,” she explained. “Some of the drugs they use to treat breast cancer have steroids in them so that you don’t have allergic reactions to them, and that ends up making you put on weight.”
Grazioli says the support she received from family, friends and her co-workers at Ford helped her though the difficult times.
“I’ve been working in the Safety area at Ford for years and years and the people here have just been wonderful,” she said. “We’re very busy these days and they picked up any work that I didn’t feel like I could do without a single hesitation.”
With three small children at home – a boy and two girls – Grazioli had her hands full, both physically and mentally.
“My oldest girl was 11 when I was diagnosed, and when I told her, the first thing she asked me was if she was going to get it too,” she said.
Because of her children, Grazioli says her desire to support Susan G. Komen for the Cure is stronger than ever.
“I have another generation to worry about. I’ve got two girls to think about and my son could have daughters with the disease one day,” she said.
Last week, Grazioli went in for her first post-treatment MRI, and she received great news.
“Everything looks clear for now,” she said. “They don’t really talk about a cure, but the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere so it was important that we caught it when we did.”
Grazioli says her experience with breast cancer has given new meaning to the 19 years she has spent as a Ford employee.
“When I read about how much money Ford has committed to this cause over the years – I think it’s more than $110 million – I am so proud,” she said. “The generosity that Ford has had for this cause is very commendable and it makes me even more proud to be a Ford employee.”