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An Unstoppable Mother and Daughter Team

Judy Levine with her mother, Sue Abend

Donor Story

An Unstoppable Mother and Daughter Team

Judy Levine, with the help of her mother, a team of doctors and the guidance of the PAVING the Path to Wellness Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, makes her way through a breast cancer diagnosis.

Aidan Parkinson
December 15, 2022

It was the middle of the workday, May 4, 2021. Judy Levine, a mother of college-age twins, was on the phone in her home office — she’s in sales for MathWorks, a software company — when she noticed email notifications arriving from her doctor. She recently had a mammogram as part of her annual checkup, so was awaiting the results. She opened the emails to find several words she didn’t understand: invasive ductal carcinoma, and ductal carcinoma in situ, cribriform type.

A Diagnosis Out of the Blue

“I looked them up on Google,” recalls Judy. “It didn’t sound so good. I called a friend who had some experience with cancer. She said, ‘You need to see your doctor.’”

Judy was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. She called her mom, Sue Abend, to whom she often turns for guidance.

“Hearing bad news like this, you can think the worst.” says Sue. “Everybody knows somebody who has gone through some form of cancer. I’m 82, so I’ve seen a lot. You have to decide to be positive. Yes, it‘s difficult, but we’ve handled worse, and we can handle this. That was my approach to hearing the news.”

Judy made several calls to make appointments for a surgical opinion. The earliest appointment was at Mass General Cancer Center where she met Anvy Nguyen, MD, a surgical oncologist who specialized in breast cancer.

It turned out this was the only appointment she needed. Within days, Dr. Nguyen arranged for an MRI, then scheduled the required lumpectomy for the following week. Over the next few weeks Judy met the rest of her team: Gayle Tilman, MD, radiation oncologist, with whom she did four weeks of daily radiation; and Amy Comander, MD, the breast oncologist who prescribed her medication and eventually introduced her to the PAVING the Path to Wellness Program for breast cancer survivors, which Dr. Comander founded.

“Blessed, is all I can say,” says Judy. “Blessed, to have the luck to have such a team.”

All in this Together

“Mass General has a variety of specialist programs,” says Judy. “But it was the PAVING Program as described by Dr. Comander that really piqued my interest. It’s all about exercise, attitude, nutrition, stress. It’s a comprehensive look at how best to live. But, most importantly for me, it was a way of connecting with a diverse group of people who were on a similar cancer journey.”

L-R: Amy Comander, MD, Judy Levine and Sue Abend at the PAVING 5K run/walk fundraiser

Based on the six evidence-based pillars of lifestyle medicine — nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, avoidance of risky substances, and social connection — PAVING the Path to Wellness is a 12-week program that educates breast cancer patients of all ages about these pillars and about the power of personal connections.

Judy is eloquent about how fortunate she is to have a caring mother and a supportive family, but, she explains, “There’s nothing like finding a group of women who are going through the same experience as you are. Hearing people’s stories, their struggles and how they’re managing is so helpful and inspiring. It keeps you going.

“Even when our PAVING group ended, we continued to meet every other Wednesday because we appreciate the support so much. Then, when we heard about the 5K run/walk fundraiser for the PAVING Program, we decided to form a team — the Pink Lady Pavers, consisting of program participants, doctors, nurses, friends, neighbors and, of course, my mom.”

This 5K took place virtually in June this year and raised nearly $25,000. Judy wants to run again in 2023 and is more committed to an exercise regimen than she has ever been. She credits this additional energy and drive to the program, which, she points out, ‘”is built to inspire for the long-term.”

Sue had a great time participating. “This race — or in my case, a walk — is very meaningful for me,” she says. “To be able to support my daughter in her cause makes it special. I can’t run, but I can walk till I drop. I guess inspiration and positivity run in our family; my mother was 90 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer and she didn’t lie down either.”

“What could be more meaningful? What better way to recover than as a team against the odds? It’s like scoring a goal in the World Cup.”

Judy Levine

For Judy, the race is a way of fighting the diagnosis. With the support she feels all around her, from her mother, from the Pink Lady Pavers and from her employer, MathWorks — which matches the money they raised in support of the PAVING Program — she feels she has put her diagnosis in its place.

“The 5K is competitive, it’s fun and we’re raising money for the PAVING Program, which is funded totally by philanthropy. What could be more meaningful? What better way to recover than as a team against the odds? It’s like scoring a goal in the World Cup,” concludes Judy.

To learn more about the PAVING the Path to Wellness program, please contact us.