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Amy Noehre: Breast cancer poster child

Seeing pink as the color of strength

Pink was never Amy Noehre’s favorite color-but that changed when she learned she had breast cancer. “I thought of it as a girly color and I’m not a ‘girly girl,'”she said. “But when I found out I had breast cancer, I started thinking of it as a color of strength-a really strong color, because it’s the color of breast cancer awareness.”

Today, a pair of pink boxing gloves hangs on her door, symbolizing the fight she’s waging. “It’s like the [T-shirts] say, ‘Fight like a girl.'” And make no mistake-a fight is how Noehre views her future. She has sought the most aggressive treatment possible since her diagnosis.

“Pink’s my color now,” Noehre said. “I’m getting everything in pink! My mother-in-law said, ‘You don’t even like pink!’ Well, now it’s my favorite color.” Prior to losing her hair, both Noehre and her dog sported pink do’s.

“I dyed my hair pink because people couldn’t look at me and know I had breast cancer,” she said, “But they’d look at me and think, ‘What’s with the pink hair?'” Though she got a lot of looks, just a few people asked Noehre about her hair. “I told them, ‘I have breast cancer, I want to raise breast cancer awareness, I want you to check yourself.” Kids weren’t as shy, though, Noehre said with a laugh-although they were only curious about her dog; still, she was able to use their curiosity as a teachable moment.

The shock
“For the past three years my doctor and I had thought a strange tissue in my left breast was fibrotic tissue [lumpy, non-cancerous]. This year for my yearly physical we decided since it was growing and painful we would get an ultrasound to ease our minds.” Noehre didn’t expect what happened next. “I went in for my mind-easing ultrasound on September 14, 2011.” She was immediately given a mammogram and a biopsy. “The radiologist told me, even before the biopsy came back, ‘I am sure that you have breast cancer.'”

At one of the busiest, happiest times of her life-she had just earned her nursing degree and had been working as an RN for six months, active in her children’s activities and running her own jewelry party business on the side-Noehre had to face her own mortality. She is 38 years old; the average age for a breast cancer diagnosis is 61. And she had to face her family’s fears, too. J.T., her husband of 15 years, struggled to accept the diagnosis. “We were on our way to the oncologist and J.T. said, ‘It could just be fibrotic tissue, right?’ But you know, you don’t go to an oncologist unless you have cancer.”

Her three children accepted the cancer diagnosis but worried that their mother might die. Ever the caretaker, Noehre is an animal rescue volunteer; her children had seen animals die of cancer. She explained to her son, C.J., 9, and daughters, Taryn, 7, and Ava, 5, that there were different and better drugs for people.

Get on with it!

A treatment plan was developed that included months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor prior to the double mastectomy that is scheduled for next spring. Six weeks of daily radiation therapy will follow. “I wanted to start the chemo right away. My oncology surgeon thought I was nuts! He said, ‘We don’t even have the pathology report back yet!’ Well, that’s just my attitude in life: Get on with it! I’ve been told that I’m really strong, and I’m going to be even stronger after all of this.”

Friends have thrown sushi parties during her chemo treatments. She is determined to survive. “I’m going to be there for my kids.” Right now, she can’t be there for every hockey game or other event-but she will, Noehre said, be there to watch them grow up-and she’ll be stronger than ever, pink boxing gloves or not.

“I just may be the breast cancer poster child.”

Update
After three months of treatment, Noehre’s tumor has shrunk significantly. Her Caring Bridge site is located at www.caringbridge.org/visit/amynoehre