You may not know Erica Bartol but you might recognize her from this picture. Her cousin Erin Reemsnyder, Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder's daughter, took this photo of her cousin Erica and entered it in the Hamburg Fair. It won best in show this past summer.
Erin said she was inspired by her cousin's courage and optimism as she battled breast cancer, a disease that proved fatal to her maternal grandmother, and really wanted to try to capture that on film. When Dr. Oz heard Bartol's story, he was moved to do the same.
On January 3, both Bartol and Reemsnyder's photo will be featured on The Dr. Oz Show, which airs on WFSB Channel 3 at 4 p.m.
Sharing her story is Bartol's way of giving back. Had it not been for an episode of Dr. Oz that aired in November 2011, she said, she may never have known she had breast cancer.
Bartol works as a nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital but like many health care providers, she spends more time focusing on caring for others than she does taking care of herself. She happened to catch an episode of Dr. Oz during a lunch break at work in which he stressed the importance of doing a self-examination.
Just 30 at the time, Bartol didn't think she was particularly at risk. She exercises regularly, eats right and breast cancer more typically strikes women post-menopause. Still, she thought she'd do a self-check just in case. She found the lump when she took a shower that evening.
Bartol was diagnosed with breast cancer on December 6, 2011. She had a lumpectomy but the news after surgery was good. All her lymph nodes were negative.
"I was lucky," Bartol said. "I was stage 1 and I found it."
It took about a month to get the results of the BRCA test, which tests for genetic mutations that indicate a strong possibility of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Had her tests been positive, Bartol said, she would have needed a full mastectomy and a hysterectomy within five years. Again, the news was good.
"I did chemo and then radiation. I’m on Tamoxifen for 5 years, which puts off my child bearing age for five years," said Bartol. "I’ll be 36. It’s not what my husband and I planned, but I’m still here, so it’s good."
"You can ask, 'Why me?' for a long time," she added. "But you do what you have to do."
Bald and Beautiful
Initially, Bartol said she hoped she might not need chemotherapy but, because of her young age, her doctor recommended it just to make sure there were no cancer cells remaining.
"I almost refer to my chemo as a 'light chemo,' but it’s still chemicals going through your body," said Bartol. "The hair was the hardest thing."
Bartol took a trip to Montreal with her husband shortly after starting chemotherapy and was shocked and horrified at how quickly her long hair began to fall out.
"You’d be amazed at how much hair comes out," Bartol said. "By the end of our four or five day stay, there were wastebaskets full of hair."
Watching it come out in clumps, she said, was just "prolonging the misery." After the trip, Bartol got a buzz cut and made a call to her "wig lady" in Cheshire. Bartol organized a wig party to pick out a new do.
"Our family, they rock, and my husband rocks, and my friends are awesome!" said Bartol.
Bartol even decided to give her wig a name. "I named her Alice," she said. "The funny thing is, I never wore it."