2011 was filled with changes and challenges for Menomonee Falls School Superintendent Patricia Greco.
She and her husband had wedded in June, she was named the new superintendent at Menomonee Falls, she was searching for a new home in Falls, and she had daughters heading to college.
“That was the hub of the year. Things were good and it was exciting to be here. It was just busy,” Greco said.
But then, later in fall, Greco got news that wasn’t a complete surprise — but alarming nonetheless.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It wasn’t a surprise for Greco, because for the past 10 years she had been going into her doctor every six months for examinations. Based on her family history, she knew she was at a heightened risk for cancer and began screening for cancer early. Doctors had already noted areas on her left side that could potentially become cancer.
But her six-month examination, where the cancer was discovered, in November came at one of the busiest times of the school year for an administrator.
“Honestly, it would have been very easy to push it off until later because so many other things were going on,” Greco said. “For 10 years, every message was it was OK.”
When she got the results, there was a tumor on her right side that was marked as an area of question. A biopsy revealed that she indeed had breast cancer. Her tumors were identified as aggressively growing, but had not expanded outside the breast tissue.
Greco opted for a double mastectomy to remove the tumors on the left and right side on Dec. 5. Although the cancerous tissue was found on the right side, a week later she discovered it had also moved to the left. Her diligence helped prevent her cancer from spreading.
“Because I was going in every six months, it didn’t have time to spread,” Greco said. “Because I did the double mastectomy, and it hadn’t spread, I didn’t need radiation.”
Message of Prevention, Early Screening
Nearly one in three people in North America will be affected by cancer is some way in their lifetimes. One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
After her double mastectomy, Greco has shared a message of early prevention with friends, family, and the community. Often, the busy schedules families keep prevent many individuals from taking necessary steps to ensure their health is good.
“You’re just in a ‘do’ mode. Being in that constant ‘do’ mode you have a tendency not to think about your personal health and to ensure your family has healthy habits,” Greco said. “Anything they find is easier to handle when it’s small.”
Full disclosure of her family’s history of cancer was also crucial to Greco’s successful — and brief — fight with cancer.
“I knew I was at risk early on. Having that level of prevention has been helpful to me,” Greco said. “You have to take seriously the risks in your family. It’s not a given you’ll get it, but the earlier you find anything the better off you are.”
While it may seem a bit daunting to fit regular examinations into a busy schedule, Greco said one could face exponentially more visits to the doctor, if a disease is discovered too late.
“You’ve got to keep the small stuff in perspective,” Greco. “Make time, plan ahead, and think about healthy eating habits. Try to work out three times a week. Whatever works for you.”
Greco also said supportive friends, family, and community are also key for those confronting cancer — or any disease — in their lives.
“You need a remarkable support system around you when you reach out for someone. When you feel you have to go it alone it’s far more challenging,” Greco said.
In Menomonee Falls, residents can be assured their neighbors won’t let them go alone toward any challenge. Greco received support from countless co-workers and individuals in Falls. But it isn’t something that’s uncommon in the village.
“The level of service here is high,” Greco said. “The level of service-focused fundraising is high. This community really has a strong sense of community, which isn’t the same