Ann Wertz insists her life improved after she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in May 2005 at the age of 46. Cancer didn’t change who she was, it magnified it. Cancer gave Ann’s fighting spirit, kindness and fun-loving personality a platform to be on full display benefiting her supportive and “lead cancer researcher” husband, Steve, her two children, and friends.
The outpouring of love and appreciation she received gave her a whole new outlook on life – the way life is meant to be lived with or without cancer. “I try to put my cancer aside and just live my life,” said Ann. “I would rather live two days feeling well than two years feeling really sick,” added Ann. For Ann, it’s all about the quality of her life.
Her cancer journey began six months prior to her cancer diagnosis when an internist found a lump in her breast that tested benign. She found another lump later and, when a reminder postcard came to get her breast rechecked, she ignored it until the lump began to hurt. A biopsy in 2005 revealed a malignancy. After two lumpectomies were unsuccessful in getting clear margins, Ann underwent a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Ann got a metastatic diagnosis in 2008 showing widespread cancer in her bones, liver and lymph nodes surrounding her kidneys. Chemo drugs worked to rid her of the metastatic tumors for two and a half years until two new tumors developed in her abdomen.
In February 2011, while still under the care of her former oncology practice, this new progression of cancer signaled the need for a new treatment. According to Ann, the practice wouldn’t advise her on any clinical trials except the ones they were running. She was left to find what she needed on her own.
Diligent in her research, she found a promising Genentech clinical trial. “I originally heard about the trial on an online forum for HER2-positive breast cancer patients,” said Ann. “A man fighting for the drug on his wife’s behalf made me pursue the trial. A light bulb went off that this must be a good drug with good results.”
Ann traveled to Charleston, S.C. every three weeks from April to September 2011 to receive the chemotherapy drug until Genentech opened a trial site closer to home at Northwest Georgia Oncology Centers (NGOC). Today, Ann is under the care of NGOC’s Dr. Hillary Hahm, with whom she’s fighting the metastatic breast cancer found in her liver, bones, lymph nodes, and most recently, in her brain.
After making the 321-mile trek to Charleston to get the chemotherapy drug she needed, driving the short distance from her Northside-area home to NGOC’s Marietta Cancer Center was a welcome journey. Ann’s grateful for the change since she’s battling a cancer without a known cure. “As far as I know, I’ll receive cancer treatment from Dr. Hahm for the rest of my life.”
The half-full glass gusto in which Ann approaches life is exemplified in her “living like I’ve never lived before.” Since her diagnosis, Ann’s mental “bucket list” of adventures have been checked off one by one. She’s traveled to Ireland, Niagara Falls and Maine, where she ate her fill of lobster every day for six days straight, and recently celebrated the marriage of her daughter in Northern California. Breaking the stereotypical mold of a woman in her 50s, Ann went “on tour” with her favorite rock and grunge band, Pearl Jam, following them to several U.S. city tour stops and scoring prime seats at each venue.
“I was impressed with Dr. Hahm because she’s smart, kind, thorough, and well-versed in cancer research and trials. She also gives me all the time I want,” said Ann. “The team is nice and helpful even down to the parking garage attendants. The people I encounter at Kennestone Hospital, where I go for testing, are also polite and helpful. The kindness of the people is remarkable.”
Although Ann loves life on the road, she’s happy to be home.