Pink 4 Hope: Woman gets cancer diagnosis, helps protect family members

Elma

ELMA, N.Y. (WIVB) — During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Channel 4 is going Pink 4 Hope and sharing insightful stories of people in WNY who have been impacted by the disease.

In Elma, Charlene Millich walked around her backyard with her granddaughter Reagan and told News 4’s Kelsey Anderson she doesn’t have any videos of her ringing the bell, once her cancer treatment was over. But every day, she and Reagan ring windchimes behind the house. The noise will forever remind her that she is victorious.

Kelsey: What does October mean to you?

Charlene: Survivorship.

Nearly three years ago, two weeks before Christmas, Millich’s life was turned upside down.

“I was out shoveling with my husband and I woke up the next morning and I felt a lump,” she said. “I thought, ‘did I pull a muscle, what happened? Something isn’t right.'”

After finding that lump, she immediately got tested.

“A week later I got a phone call telling me that I had breast cancer,” she said. “And I was like, ‘Wow.’ People need to slow down, they need to pay attention to their bodies, they need to worry less, they need to stop worrying about their job being their priority. Your health is your priority, not the money you make, your health is your priority.”

The 57-year-old has learned to live in the moment after a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy and three months of chemotherapy.

“Losing your hair was worse than losing your breasts, you can ask anybody who has breast cancer and they’ll agree with that. Because everybody sees your hair.”

Her body changed before her eyes, but there was more.

“And then I found out all the other stuff I found out about my family history,” Millich said. “And then it got even scarier for me.”

Millich found out she has a mutated BRCA gene. That mutation puts her at a greater risk for breast and ovarian cancers, and it’s inherited. She discovered hers came from her dad’s said of the family, so she made sure every person on that side of the family went in for a test.

As it turned out, 11 women in her family came back positive for that mutated BRCA gene, including her daughter.

“I had just turned 30, and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I carry the gene,” Christine Suchocki said, Millich’s daughter. “Now what?'”

Christine showed Anderson the paperwork that tells her she has a 71.6% chance of getting cancer. She now gets a mammogram every six months and she’s staying educated.

“It’s not something that people talk about,” Christine said.

Both mother and daughter didn’t know much about their family history until this experience. But now, they’re imporling others to do a little research. Did a great aunt of yours have breat cancer? Ask you mom, dad, grandparents and others these questions, so you can find out if you carry that life-threatening mutation.

And go get tested.

“Go get your mammogram,” Charlene said. “I was supposed to go in October that year and I waited until December because I was busy working and said, ‘Oh it’s ok I’ll wait.’ Don’t wait, don’t put it off. If you’re scared today, the longer you put it off, the worse it’s going to be. When they catch it in the early stages, you can get through it. People live for years. Go and get tested. Do it for yourself… do it for your family.”

Charlene is a member of the Breast Cancer Network of WNY. She said the organization has helped her greatly through her fight, with talks, free workouts and more. For more information on the group, click here.

She also thanks the livestrong program at her local YMCA for helping. Call your local Y branch for more information.

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