Breast cancer survivor treats herself to humor and a positive outlook


Amy Schwartz couldn’t keep her mind from going to a worst-case scenario when she learned she had breast cancer. She was age 42 – decades younger than the median age of 62 for women at diagnosis. Her cancer was triple positive. That meant it was an aggressive form of the disease. She was Stage 2B. The lump she had found in her left breast during a self-exam was large – nearly 90 millimeters.
Life had already turned topsy-turvy for Amy. She and her two dogs were living with her parents again in Middlebury, Indiana. The move from Indianapolis, where Amy had lived for 18 years, was supposed to be a temporary one – just until the restrictions and uncertainties of the pandemic sorted themselves out.

Cancer doesn’t wait for the right age

Amy had found a lump during a quick self-exam in the spring of 2020. She occasionally checked for anything different ever since she found a benign fatty tumor in her right breast in 2004. This time, a lump in her left breast didn’t feel the same.
After Amy settled in with Finn and Harper, her two poodles, at her parents’ house, she asked around about where to go for a mammogram. Goshen Retreat Women’s Health Center kept coming up.
A mammogram led to ultrasounds, biopsies, then diagnosis in October 2020.
Dr. Laura Morris, a board certified and fellowship trained breast surgical oncologist at the Retreat, walked Amy through her treatment options. The plan they settled on started with chemotherapy to attack the tumor cells. A bilateral mastectomy would significantly lower Amy’s risk of recurrence. After she healed from surgery and reconstruction, a round of radiation would break down any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of cancer coming back.
The treatment plan brought on more unknowns and worries for Amy. A month before her diagnosis, Amy started a job at a local RV manufacturer. She had no idea how her treatment schedule would affect her work performance, even though she was able to work remotely.
Amy quickly hit the brakes on her emotional roller coaster.
“It’s all about perspective,” she said. “I told my family and friends we’re going to get through this with humor and find the positives where we can.”
The first attitude check came before Amy’s second round of chemotherapy. That’s when a clump of hair landed on the shower floor.
“I had a 10-second meltdown and then made the decision to shave my head,” she said. Before she picked up the clippers, Amy put together a Going Bald music playlist and hoped Ron Gallo and Dave Matthews Band would keep her calm.
“I thought I would be scared,” she said. “But it was liberating and freeing,”

Give ‘em something to talk about

To brighten up chemotherapy days, Amy showed off a new combo of leggings that matched her Adidas Superstar shoes at each session. Her followers on social media waited for the big reveal on infusion days and sent funny memes to help Amy get through the six rounds of treatment.

Finn and Harper came along on infusion days too. Their mugs were imprinted on special pillows made by a friend that Amy carried with her to every appointment.
Dr. Morris led the surgical oncology team during Amy’s mastectomy in May 2021. At the same time, Dr. Ronald Downs, plastic surgeon at The Centre, P.C. and an affiliate with the Retreat, did immediate breast reconstruction to place implants. That allowed Amy to quickly move forward with healing and recovery.
“When I’m an old woman in the retirement community, I’ll have breasts half my age,” she said with a smile.
Her runway success during chemo paved the way for Amy to show off her flare for fashion during 25 rounds of radiation. At the start of each five-day session, she matched shirt and nail polish colors to boost her spirits and count down the five weeks of therapy.

Listen, it’s not an easy journey

Moments of sadness filled Amy’s days too, and a smile could quickly turn into a cry. That’s when she leaned on her family and friends to let her vent built-up emotions. Amy’s mom had her own cancer challenges 20 years ago and fully understood the pain and hurt that’s part of living with the disease.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Amy said. “I could not have gone through all this alone.”
The Integrative Care Team at the cancer center also regularly checked in with Amy throughout treatment. A dietitian guided Amy on an eating plan to help her maintain energy and protect her health. Supplements recommended by the naturopathic doctor restored tissue and helped with healing after surgery.
During moments of doubt, Amy turned to the mind-body counselor. The calm presence and willingness to listen helped Amy find her own strength to continue with her treatment plan.

Big and small landmarks pave the way in survivorship

Amy slowly regained her energy and fought off fatigue as her active treatment ended. She measured progress by how often she could take walks with Finn and Harper. In June 2022, the threesome logged 43 miles as part of the 30 Mile Dog Walk Challenge. The national event sponsored by the American Cancer Society raises funds to support people with cancer.

Professional photos of Amy taken after surgery and reconstruction make her feel better about the vessel she’s in now. Her hairline mimics Steve Harrington in the Stranger Things TV series more than Charlie Brown in a Peanuts cartoon. Nature’s weight loss program, as Amy calls the disease, caused her to shed a few pounds and keep it off.
Amy still regularly walks the hallways of the cancer center, nearly two years after she first entered its doors. Instead of a patient ID however, she wears a Goshen Health Colleague badge.
Amy started a new job as an Oncology Information Specialist at the cancer center in July 2022. Every day, she records assessments of people with cancer who turn to the cancer center for help.
It’s given Amy a whole new perspective on life.
“This is where my calling is,” she said. “I’m in a good place now.”