Inspiration comes in many forms - for Irma Poznecki, a 45-year-old mother of three from Anthem, Ariz., it was brownies and cupcakes.
In late 2009, Irma was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news came as an obvious shock to Irma who says she has always been active and healthy. And while she may describe herself as an “ordinary mom,” what she discovered over the next several months was something extraordinary.
Irma is a high energy, busy mom. She works as a substitute teacher and spends a good deal of her time shuttling her own kids from sporting and school events. She is also active in school activities and is president of a group which raises funds to buy school library books. If that isn’t enough, Irma is a leader of her daughter’s Brownie troop. In fact, it was during a Brownie meeting last fall when Irma received some unsettling news.
Following a mammogram and other tests, Irma was anxious to have her pathology results as soon as possible, and asked her doctor to call her with the results as soon as they came in. Her primary care doctor called her from home late that night to make sure she received her results.
“I happened to take my doctor's call during our Brownie's Christmas meeting and party,” Irma said. “I walked out of the room, was told I had cancer, and then had to return to the meeting with nine jolly eight-year old girls and most of their moms. I made it through without breaking down.”
After the meeting, Irma talked again at length on the phone with her doctor who thoroughly explained the diagnosis. The news was that she had a slow-growing form of breast cancer called infiltrating ductal carcinoma - the most common type of breast cancer which forms in the lining of a milk duct within the breast.
The doctors at Mayo scheduled a lumpectomy a short time later. Irma said she wasn’t worried because of the trust she had in her doctors, the support of her family and the fact that she is almost constantly in the company of kids.
“It’s amazing how kids feed the positive spirit,” Irma said. “I have to be there for my kids, the Brownies, my students … and it’s reciprocal with kids, they really kept me going and kept me from negative thoughts. I never had those kinds of emotions.”
Even though her life is extremely hectic and her dedication to her family is obvious, Irma has been able to do something she feels has helped ease her recovery – create some time for herself. She has always enjoyed athletics and early in 2009 she became involved in a local running club called The Cupcake Runners. The group – recognized on the streets of Anthem by their signature pink T-shirts - was formed by other moms who wanted the camaraderie of exercise. Irma certainly found that with the other “Cupcakes” and much more.
“Saturday morning, the time we run, is my time – just me – I don’t worry about anything else,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be as positive as I am if I didn’t have the Cupcakes.”
Irma says her time with the Cupcakes and having the balance has helped ease her recovery. At the time she was diagnosed, Irma had been training with several other Cupcakes to run an upcoming half marathon. While her surgery was scheduled just a few short weeks before the race, she was determined to run if she could.
Irma’s surgeon at Mayo Clinic, Richard Gray, M.D., says that with this type of procedure, most women can return to normal activities within a few days.
“Although I wouldn’t call training for a half marathon a normal activity,” he said
But Dr. Gray told Irma that if she felt up to it she could do it because exercise has an extremely positive effect on recovery. “…and it was remarkable how quickly she jumped back into it,” he added. “I didn’t think of this as something that would stop me,” Irma said, “it wasn’t even a thought.”
Two weeks after her surgery, Irma crossed the finish line at the P.F. Chang Half Marathon in Phoenix. With her fellow Cupcakes cheering her on during the race, and her kids, students and Brownies inspiring her run, she discovered something extraordinary. “I never knew I had this in me,” Irma said. “And it’s good to know it’s there when I need it.”
Not bad for an “ordinary” mom.
A note about mammograms
Doctors discovered Irma’s cancer during a routine mammogram – one she almost didn’t have.
“During an appointment with Dr. Anne-Marie Warner, she noticed I didn’t have a mammogram on file,” Irma said. “She asked me to have a mammogram but stubborn me told her I’d do it when I turned 46 since I know that statistically my chance of getting breast cancer was minuscule. Plus, I thought about what an inconvenience it would be and how disruptive it would to my busy schedule.
“Thank God, she gently persisted and eventually convinced me to go for the mammogram last year. I will forever be grateful to her!”
Irma's story was submitted by Jim McVeigh, a communications consultant in Public Affairs at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.