25 Years of Survivorship: A Mother Reflects

Pictured: Heidi Fornes celebrates 25-years of being cancer-free on May 5.

In 1990, I was diagnosed with an advanced breast cancer. Every one of my lymph nodes tested positive for cancer. I was 29 years old.

Shocked and scared, I went to the first oncology group that was offered to me. They told me I wouldn’t see my then-4-year-old son, Scott, graduate from kindergarten. My specialist recommended that I get a bone marrow transplant (BMT), noting that I would need to travel to another city, and probably to another state, for this highly specialized and intensive treatment.

I knew that we had a cancer center right in our backyard, so I decided to spend one day with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center to see what they had to say. I braced for the worst news, but instead was met with hope, concern and an urgency to start my road to wellness. I immediately decided to stay with Roswell Park, and scheduled a bone marrow transplant there. I knew the treatment was going to be a challenge, but Roswell Park offered me new trials and treatment not offered to me before.

That fall, I put Scott on the bus for his first day of kindergarten, not knowing how many days or months or years I would be around to do this. Being a single mother, I had to bring him with me for daily appointments that would last 4 to 6 hours a day. The nurses spoiled him.

May 5, 2017, is the 25th anniversary of my bone marrow transplant — my second birthday. Because of Roswell Park, not only did I see Scott graduate from kindergarten, I got to see him graduate with high honors a few months ago from his Radiation Therapy program. I know that my experience at Roswell Park helped inspire his career choice and his passion for working with cancer patients.

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I still go back to Roswell Park every year for my visits to the Annual BMT Long-Term Survivorship Clinic, and every year I look forward to reconnecting with Pam Paplham, the nurse who has been with me every step of the way. Pam, a nurse practitioner and doctor of nursing practice with Roswell Park’s BMT program, was involved in my bone marrow harvest, all my bone marrow biopsies and all my follow-up care.

I am so thankful I decided to spend just one day with Roswell Park. When I first heard their “Just One Day” campaign, I thought it was perfect, as that is exactly what I tell people when I find out they’ve been diagnosed with cancer. I’ll say, “Listen, you’ve just got to spend one day with Roswell Park and see what they have to offer you.” I thank you, Roswell Park, for never giving up on me. You have meant everything to me.

Editor’s note: While Heidi had a bone marrow transplant as part of a clinical trial, bone marrow transplant is not currently an approved treatment option for breast cancer.

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.