Cancer Survivors Phil Schiffman’s Story
When I prepare to write a blog I usually ask the person I will be interviewing some basic questions and form the story from there. Sometimes the interviewee already has their story written. This is especially true of cancer survivors and is exactly true of Phil Schiffman. This is his story of battling breast cancer:
“My name is Phil Ira Schiffman and I am grateful and blessed to have just celebrated my 56th birthday. I am very happily married to a dedicated and devoted wife named Miriam. We have three children, our oldest daughter is married with two children, our other daughter is married with a son and our son Avi is single, lives home and helps us tremendously.
My beloved father of blessed memory was an exemplary role model. From what I recall and understand he was diagnosed with prostate cancer while in his fifties. His doctor’s kept the cancer at bay with a variety of treatments procedures and medications. Sadly and unfortunately the cancer had a mind of its own and when he was 83 the cancer spread into his bones and we lost him. We miss him every single day.
We never really gave much thought to the genes and family history until my three older brothers were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Each went through their own personal experience and I prayed for them all. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t waiting for the “other shoe to drop” and when will this hit me? And where? I went about my life being an accountant and being involved in sports. I thrive on being a family man. I am also an eternal optimist.
My wife Miriam is nothing if not thorough. She attributes this quality to her father who never ever missed a beat. She noticed one day on my right breast “something” and immediately exclaimed, “I don’t like that.” She always says that she can never ignore her inner voice, instinct, intuition and radar. She relies on it. She insisted that I see my general practitioner.
He was a very overly confident person who took a look and said “tell your wife it’s nothing you are asymmetrical.” What he should have done in hindsight was at least refer me for another opinion. So he dismissed my situation.
Suffice it to say Miriam’s instinct guided me to another doctor. We went to the Saint Barnabas Health Care facility in Livingston New Jersey. We had an appointment with a Dr. Addison in Short Hills who performed an ultrasound and was acting very awkward and strangely I received an rx to get a mammogram and additional ultrasound. My wife being a patient at the Ambulatory Care System in Livingston gained us an immediate appointment.
The red flag came when we were put in a “holding room.” Were we sat very unnerved and unhinged. Bear in mind my breast was not inverted or dimpled. There was a firm area that my wife kept feeling. Finally after what seemed like an eternity I was taken to the back for testing. My wife in the meantime was pacing the halls for two hours. When she was finally called in they said that they suspected “Gynecomastia” which could not have been further from the truth. The radiologist looked at everyone in the room like a deer caught in the headlights as if to say “oh yeah it’s cancer” unprofessional and sickening. We went back to Dr. Addison that day with a bouquet of flowers and she was very displaced and out of sorts.
That evening we went to Dr. Michelle O’Shea who is my wife’s Dr. She needed clearance to draw blood because I am a heart patient but before we even got clearance she drew the blood. Again my wife was pacing the halls and the staff could not have been any colder and callous keeping her away. My wife was called in and went to hug the Dr. when she pushed her away. Dr O’Shea looked at my wife and said your husband has breast cancer.
I walked into the room and she blurted it out. There was nothing warm and fuzzy about the delivery of the diagnosis. She rambled on about reconstruction…and we left numb and paralyzed.
The next morning we drove to Newton Hospital with the slides. We realized then and there that we were calling Dr. Glen Gejerman in Hackensack (who had treated my brothers) for a referral.
We thank the good lord that we wound up with Dr. Stanley Waintraub who is brilliant, righteous and our gift from above. He took exemplary stellar care of us and still does. After careful evaluation he sent us to Dr. Mary Jane Warden at the Hackensack University Medical Center. She was the other angel that god sent us. Both doctors consulted with each other and concluded that I needed a unilateral mastectomy for invasive ductal carcinoma. The unilateral decision was based on my brca negative testing.
I had a unilateral mastectomy. My armpad/fatpad contained 22 lymph nodes, 6 were affected. I had 6 sessions of chemotherapy and subsequent radiation. The nurses in the infusion suite at the John Theurer Cancer Center saved my life in concert and in tandem with the aforementioned doctors and their staff who took extraordinary care of me.
What I was not prepared for were the brutal side effects. The nausea and general malaise. The extreme fatigue and overall weakness. The hair loss and the nail loss. The infections and the chronic 3 hour hiccups from the pre-chemo meds.
I came home with the Jackson Pratt drains. My wife drained them, evaluated the measurements and documented everything. She gave me sponge baths and took care of me as she always does. Our dear friend a nurse Rochelle Brodsky administered the neulasta shots.
Our other supportive friends who are family (the Nashofer’s and Goldsmith’s) were there for us 24/7. We were concerned about lymphedema and were instructed that my blood pressure needs to be taken on the left arm and that if we ever flew I would need a sleeve. My diagnosis was 90% estrogen related. I take Arimidex which gives me cravings and I avoid soy products. The after effects for me also include loss of tone and volume in my skin but i have a continued love of tomato juice since the treatment.
I have endured a major heart attack and diverticulitis as well yet I look at life knowing that God does not give us what we cannot handle and that sadly many other people have it much worse. My goal is to “pay it forward” and help other friends and family members experiencing this challenge and test.
I exercise take my meds and see my doctors regularly even though my mobility in the area of the mastectomy is limited at times.
What keeps me going is my wife, my children, my grandchildren and a job I love. We have extreme faith in god and are religious people who attend synagogue and observe the laws of Judaism. We have friends that are priceless. They never ever turn us away. We also have cousins Nathan and Tirel Maltz and Fran Malkin who always reach out to us and touch base and were supportive throughout my journey.
We perform acts of kindness daily in the hopes that good will result. I attend all the breast cancer races and walks and our son races diligently each time. I never look back I only look forward and only see the good in everything. I hope that I can continue to be healthy and be a role model and example for others.