SURVIVORS
IMPORTANCE OF BREAST HEALTH ACTIVISM

Breast cancer has touched the lives of so many people in the fashion industry. To underscore the importance of SA's involvement with breast health awareness issues, two women in retail openly and willingly share their personal stories about surviving breast cancer.

SANDI ALPERT
Sandi Alpert's bout with breast cancer began more than five years ago when she discovered a lump in her breast during a self-examination. "Everyone said it must be from stress," recalled Alpert, 62, a fashion coordinator and director of the personal shopper service at Bloomingdale's. "My mother had just died, and I had just taken my father to Florida, so I thought it really could be stress."
Or, as she says now, that's what she wanted to believe. When three of the four doctors she saw agreed that it was nothing, Alpert says she was happy to put the whole thing aside. "But inside, I knew; I just didn't want to face it," she said. So, she didn't return to the doctor six months later as she was instructed, but rather let a year and a half lapse before a friend made her an appointment.
"The doctor knew right there," said Alpert, who has no family history of breast cancer. "He gave me a mammography, but he knew." It was just before Thanksgiving when she was told she would need surgery; the doctor recommended a mastectomy.
"I didn't feel anything when he told me," Alpert remembered. "I felt numb. All I knew was that I had to make a choice -- did I want to live or die. And I knew I wanted to live whatever it would take.
Despite the fear, Alpert rose to the occasion. "What got me through was knowing that I had a lot going for me," she said. "I was married, have children and grandchildren and a job I really enjoy. If I had to go, I felt I had at least had a full life.
"No matter how strong you are, when you hear cancer, you think it's a death sentence," she added. "But I began to feel better when I realized the prognosis was good."
Alpert had 10 hours of surgery, with both the mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to replace the lost breast occurring at the same time. Her recovery took more than three months and was followed by six months of weekly chemotherapy. "The hardest part was that during those first few months, I couldn't walk, I was in constant pain and I was so doped up from the painkillers all the time," she said. "I thought I would never be able to run around and be active again."
Today, Alpert said she is completely back to normal, not only running her department at Bloomingdale's but also helping to promote breast cancer research and breast health awareness. This past spring she singlehandedly produced a large size fashion show and benefit for breast cancer raising $5,000 for the Louis Vinet Research Center at Beth Israel Hospital.
But Alpert's greatest role has been in advising women by sharing her story. "I've been very open about my experience," she said. "I tell women that I'm angry at myself for waiting so long. If I hadn't, it would have just been a little tumor that could have been removed. If women tell me they have lumps, I make sure they get to a doctor right away. The worst thing you can do is wait."

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