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Advice From Shelby Township Breast Cancer Survivor: 'Know That You Are Not Alone'

Treated at St. John Medical Center in Macomb Township, among other cancer centers, Paula Ragatzki has undergone surgery, chemo and radiation therapies in her fight to overcome Stage III breast cancer.

Even after winning her battle with breast cancer, Paula Ragatzki is still trying to find a new normal. 

The Shelby Township woman was diagnosed with Stage III cancer in March 2010 and has since sought treatment at St. John Hospital Van Elslander Cancer Center Grosse Pointe Woods and St. John Medical Center in Macomb Township.

At the time of diagnosis, the disease had spread to the 16 of 20 lymph nodes and surgery, chemo, and radiation would be necessary to stop the spread. 

Although few ever expect a cancer diagnosis, this was especially true for Ragatzki, as she did not even feel a lump; her physician found the mass during a routine exam. She was 49 when she got the news. 

Read more: American Cancer Society recommends new breast self-exam technique

“Of course, I was surprised. I have absolutely no family history. My mom turned 80, my sisters, my aunts ... no one ever dealt with this before,” she said. “It was devastating.”

She believes stress was a major contributor in her case. Shortly before her diagnosis, she had lost her job with Comerica Bank, where she worked for 24 years.

She also served as caregiver for her mother prior to her death. 

Ragatzki was dealt the normal course of treatment for someone with advanced cancer: surgery to remove and reconstruct the breast, as well as chemo and radiation therapies.

She needed several sessions of physical therapy after her surgery, as the procedure left her unable to move her upper body properly. Likewise, she had her ovaries removed to prevent any further cancer from developing as a result of medications she must take. 

“I’ve never feel quite like myself since then,” she said. “I have to find a new normal, I suppose.” 

While she’s cancer-free now, she certainly remembers what helped her get through the diagnosis and treatment. 

What helped Ragatzki is a positive attitude, something she’s tried to maintain throughout the past few years. She said surrounding herself with positive people also helps, as well as keeping informed. 

Other advice? She said there’s no such thing as a silly question and if you have any doubts, get a second opinion. “I would say empower yourself. You’ve been given a diagnosis, but that’s not who you are,” she said. “Be proactive. Know that if you are going through this, you are not alone. Find others. Find support groups. Those are the best resources you’ll find.” 

For other tips on dealing with a cancer diagnosis, visit the American Cancer Society's webpage.

Looking for additional resources or ways to support the fight against breast cancer in Macomb Township? Visit Patch's Breast Cancer Awareness guide.

Carol October 22, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Thank you for sharing your story. I wish you the best of health and keep up the positive thinking! Maybe you will consider sharing a 5 year celebratory update...you're already half-way there!
Marina Cracchiolo October 22, 2012 at 05:32 PM
I agree with Carol. Thanks for Paula for being so brave and sharing your story of strength.

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