Q&A with Laura Pinnavaia Ph.D. - Breast Cancer Survivor and Loving Sister.

Sunday June 6th is National Cancer Survivors Day. Cancer lies at the heart of plantable’s mission. We’ve touched so many people’s lives that are living with cancer or have experienced cancer. We are in clinical trials with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) to evaluate how a plantable dietary intervention can reduce future cancer risk. This year we wanted to profile a very special Cancer Survivor, and I picked my favorite one - in the whole wide world. My sister, Laura Pinnavaia. 

 

Unfortunately, cancer touched my sister and I both at a very young age when we lost our mother to triple negative breast cancer after a 10-year battle. Then Laura was also diagnosed. 


Click here to watch the full IGTV interview.



Nadja:

Tell us about when you were diagnosed and what that felt like. 


Laura:

I was diagnosed in the beginning of March 2015, on the same day that our mother died, which felt like destiny in a way. It was very scary as cancer was an unknown world to me that I’d only lived through my mother, and the way I lived it through my mother was in a very very scary way. So when I was diagnosed, I thought it was over... I didn’t know how it was going to go and my first reaction was just to close up and not tell anyone. Another reaction I had was that I felt very guilty, as if I’d done something wrong or lived an unhealthy life, which was not the case as I was always active and had eaten healthily. So those were my first two reactions—guilt and shutting off, not wanting anyone to know about it. 


Nadja:

When you were diagnosed in March, what was your diagnosis and how were you treated?


Laura: 

When I was diagnosed, I was immediately operated on at a very good hospital in Milan. I went through surgery, oncology, and then another surgery. I was unfortunately diagnosed with BRCA2, so I had to have a double mastectomy, 6 sessions of chemo, and 25 applications of radiotherapy. That was very scary as well because you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. The first day I went in for chemo, I felt like I was going in to get my head chopped off, going in for my execution… but I was lucky to be in a very good hospital with professional healthcare workers that explained everything to me and ultimately treated me as a person and not just a number. You’re told everything and more importantly, you’re given the choice on how to proceed. 


Nadja:

Over the course of your treatment, you started to change from devastated and closed off to where you’ve now become an icon in your hospital and an icon of ‘life after breast cancer.’ Tell us a little about that story—what changed, how did it change and what are you doing now?


Laura:

When I was diagnosed, I started talking to people that I knew currently had or had survived breast cancer. They were the people that helped me most—the people that were either going through what I was going through or had gone through what I was about to go through. They gave me the most support and helped me through it because they were still there, still around to tell their survival story. They were also there to give me advice on what to do, on simple things like where to go and get a wig. So, it’s true that all the hospital staff and all the therapy was perfect, but what really helped my emotional state were the people that had already been through it and could tell me what it was like. That treatment was bearable and that I would get through it. 


So when I started therapy and I could see that I was surviving, I started to think that I wanted to help other women as well. If the women who had been through breast cancer were the ones who helped me, well then I wanted to be one of those people that would help others get through it as well. I then got involved in some advocacy work, specifically in hospital therapy to talk to other women who were going through what I had gone through. I then joined a patient organization and became a board member to learn what breast cancer was all about so that not only could I help women, but I could also try and change things, to better things for women with breast cancer. 


Nadja: 

What’s your treatment like today and tell us about your recovery. 


Laura:

By November 2015, I had finished all my chemo and radiotherapy and I had started taking the hormone blocker Tamoxifen. With the genetic mutation I have, I had to go through further surgery and have my ovaries removed as well. What helped me a lot was sticking to a healthy diet, and doing a lot of sport. When you start taking Tamoxifen, a lot of women start getting pains in their knees, elbows—bone pain, which is to do with the loss of estrogen. A lot of women get scared thinking they can’t move anymore, which is not true because the extensive research on the matter shows that the more you move, the better your chance of recovery and survival is. 


Nadja:

What is your lifestyle today?


Laura:

When I was first diagnosed, I took the first year through treatment as a sort of sabbatical to just focus on myself and my self recovery. I continued and still continue to eat a healthy diet and take a walk everyday, at least a 1-1.5 hour walk. I don’t drink any alcohol anymore, not that I drank much before, I just decided that I’d prefer not to. And just trying to be happy :). 


The other thing that’s very important in my position as an advocate is to keep studying in this field. To keep going to conferences and trying to learn everything there is to learn about breast cancer because being informed is important and it helps. It helped me as a patient when I was undergoing all the therapy, because if you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, that makes a difference. 


Nadja:

Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Laura, you’re amazing and such an inspiration. And you are my favorite Cancer Survivor in the whole wide world ❤️

 

Nadja Pinnavaia, 

Founder & CEO

plantable