#MyDukeCancerStory: Safe and Cared For Close to Home

October 2, 2017
By: Julie Poucher Harbin, Writer, DCI

When 18 years ago Leslie Gartenberg and her husband, Adam, decided to move from New Jersey to North Carolina, one of their criteria was finding a home near good healthcare.

“We wanted to make a life here,” said Gartenberg. “We were young, just married, and we thought, if, God forbid, anything ever happens to our health later in life, we’ll have a world class institution nearby.”

Settled in Raleigh, the family of two eventually grew to a family of five. Leslie balanced her busy life as a mom of three boys with part-time work as a personal coach and meeting leader for a company helping people achieve healthy lifestyles.

The discovery of a family history of breast cancer prompted Gartenberg to be extra cautious. At age 40, she began getting diagnostic mammograms; a step up from screening mammograms. At 44 years old, and again at 45, she paid extra for the 3D version, “just in case.” At that most recent exam, in August 2015, the results prompted her local radiologist to take a closer look. Gartenberg went for an MRI and was referred to Duke Women’s Cancer Care Raleigh breast cancer surgeon Lisa Tolnitch, MD.

She had two different tumors, one of which was HER2/neu positive invasive ductal carcinoma — a very aggressive form of breast cancer.

“I was fit; I was strong,” said Gartenberg, who also thought that because she nursed her kids she had another layer of protection against breast cancer. “The idea that I would get breast cancer was laughable.”

Gartenberg, whose medical oncologist was Michael Spiritos, MD, would undergo a double mastectomy and a grueling 17 rounds of chemotherapy and Herceptin, followed by a plan of five to ten years of hormonal therapy.

Gartenberg’s husband, family and wide circle of friends came together to support her.

“You can’t help but look up and feel lucky when you realize how many people want to help you.” — Leslie Gartenberg, breast cancer survivor

Sharon Mills, who she knew from synagogue, shared her own experience as a recent breast cancer survivor and offered to help.

“I want to give a shout out to Sharon,” said Gartenberg, whose friend came to every chemotherapy treatment. “There’s this sisterhood with breast cancer survivors — this club that we jokingly, with tears in our eyes, say we never wanted to be a part of.”

Gartenberg said she’s deeply grateful for her access to life-saving treatments and Duke’s holistic approach to care — even in survivorship — that includes access to support groups, lunch-and-learns, therapists, nutritionists and exercise physiologists, and special resources for her husband and kids.

“People come from all over the world to be treated at Duke, and it’s right in our backyard,” said Gartenberg. “You never think in the prime of your life that you’re going to need this kind of treatment.”

To help make survivor stories like this possible, support Duke Cancer Institute and follow #MyDukeCancerStory on Facebook and Twitter. Interested in sharing your #MyDukeCancerStory? Email dcidevelopment@duke.edu or call 919-385-0039.

Circle Photo (top): Leslie Gartenberg says "Thank You." photo by Huth Photo