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Face of Brodeur breast cancer foundation walk looks for common ground

August 19, 2018

With at least four distinct genetic types and even more subtypes, each with their own causes, paths for treatment and prognoses, there is no one way to have breast cancer.

Some people who undergo treatment can be rid of cancer for the rest of their lives. Others find the disease comes back or spreads. Some people with a breast cancer diagnosis jump right into the ocean of pink fundraisers and “awareness” efforts promoted by breast cancer foundations. Others will stay incognito, preferring to cover bald heads with wigs and avoid the conversations that come with disclosing their diagnosis.

So when the New London-based Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation asked Johanna D’Addario of Cromwell to be the face of the annual fundraising walk that generates the bulk of the money the foundation uses to fund research grants, she hesitated.

“I’m not the one that has ribbons everywhere and paints my hair pink,” said D’Addario. At a family Easter gathering that fell a couple days after her oncologist told her she had breast cancer in 2015, D’Addario and her husband didn’t even tell her family members about the diagnosis.

“It was, like, Easter,” she said in an interview last week. “So we put on a happy face.”

Breast cancer, which enjoys a high profile in the United States thanks to organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen foundation, wasn’t even the first kind of cancer that had disrupted D’Addario’s life. Faced at age 26 with a positive test for a genetic mutation that causes a high risk of developing the same kind of stomach cancer that had killed her father and grandmother, D’Addario had a surgery in 2010 in which the surgeon removed her stomach and connected the end of her esophagus to her small intestine.

Her brother, aunt, and uncle all tested positive for the mutation and also underwent the same surgery as a preventative measure.

In D’Addario’s stomach, the surgeon found 32 spots of the cancer, in its early stages but still validation enough that her decision was correct.

“I was like, okay, I did the right thing,” she said. “The breast cancer was not even on my radar.”

Only a few years later, D’Addario’s doctor — Erin Hofstatter, an oncologist at Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Genetics & Prevention Center — was telling her the news. Invasive lobular cancer in her left breast.

“I remember she sat down and said, ‘Well, we have a lot to talk about.’”

Hofstatter, a 2014 recipient of one of the 100,000 in installments over two years to fund their work investigating prevention and treatment.

Finding someone willing to tell their story as the honorary chair of the walk took a few tries; the foundation didn’t have a walk chair last year, Maniscalo said.

“You can’t just force fit it,” she said. “We look for the right person — it has to mean something. It inspires people to want to step up and walk.”

Like Logan, who was working to grow the foundation even through the months before she died, D’Addario is “very honest,” Maniscalo said. “She’s always postive (but) she doesn’t try to spin it.”

m.shanahan@theday.com

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