Saco Survivor Shares How Family’s Heart Disease History and Her Cancer Treatment Collided, and How She Survived

Written by Muffy Tostevin, Saco

Saco Survivor Shares How Family’s Heart Disease History and Her Cancer Treatment Collided, and How She SurvivedI lived a charmed life until 2012, the year I retired at 65 from my many years as a teacher, coach, and later as a school principal in Lewiston. I was a free-range kid with, six siblings and great parents.

I grew up on the coast surrounded by pastures, coves, relatives and places to swim. I played tennis and sailed. I joined two swim teams and became a very good competitive swimmer. I worked 60-hour weeks as school principal in Lewiston. I’ve been married for 49 years to a wonderful husband and together we have two beautiful girls.

When I retired ten years ago, I was training to compete in a powerlifting meet and learning how to properly lift and breathe. All my annual physical exams were fine. However, one month later I found a lump that was breast cancer, so my life took a turn.

The only health issue I had was discovered when I was pregnant with my daughter at age 30. Doctors discovered I had a Congenital Bicuspid Aortic Valve that I likely inherited from my father, who had died from heart disease. I started having echocardiograms. I also became religious about routine mammograms and self-exams. My mom died at 65 from metastasized breast cancer.Saco Survivor Shares How Family’s Heart Disease History and Her Cancer Treatment Collided, and How She Survived

Beginning in 2009, a few years before I retired, I started working with a personal trainer mostly to get strong – my personal record was 800+ lb. leg presses!

In 2013, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, I immediately started hormone therapy. I had the surgery, started chemotherapy, and had radiation for almost a year. Chemo wrecks blood sugar and I had to go on medication as a pre-diabetic. Through all of this, I continued to work out with my trainer every day I felt well enough. We moved after treatments finished and I immediately ruptured a disk requiring surgery. Four days later I saw my cardiologist to get the results of my annual echocardiogram, and he said, “You are growing an aortic aneurysm and need open-heart surgery but your valve looks great”. I was told to do absolutely nothing until my surgery in 3 months.

In 2014, I had open-heart surgery followed by 25 additional breast biopsies between 2015 and 2018, and had genetic testing which discovered my cancer had a high chance of recurrence. My oncologist recommended I stay on therapy for a total of 10 years. I was a bit lost with this new information as I worried about what more treatment might do to my heart.

In 2016, I had toSaco Survivor Shares How Family’s Heart Disease History and Her Cancer Treatment Collided, and How She Survived endure yet another surgery, this time to repair my chest incision from the open-heart surgery I had years ago. In 2018, my valve failed and was replaced with the TAVR procedure. On my birthday in 2019, I had a double mastectomy and that fall. I had episodes of blindness. They suspected a

Transient Ischemic Attack or mini-stroke. However, after waiting several months, I was correctly diagnosed with retinal migraines without headaches.

After recovering from a rotator cuff surgery just last year, I researched how to lose weight I had gained over several years and how to lower an A1c of 7.2. I decided right then that enough was enough and getting healthy was my life goal. I worked hard and lost about 20 lbs. I began my transformation to wellness. Through all this, I continued to work with personal trainers when not recovering from medical issues. I feel this helped me stay strong and be able to survive each one my health problems.

I feel blessed and grateful every day. It could have been very different. I was taught to breathe properly. I had annual scans and tests. I discovered my heart condition before it was too late. I exercise. I have a fabulous medical team. I go to the gym. I teach swimming. I serve on boards. I even mentor medical students by sharing my health history and experiences to help them learn. The icing on the cake is a total weight loss of 70 lbs. and an A1c of 5.4.

My advice to others? “One step at a time, breathe, be patient, take it slow and steady, get strong, be active, ask questions, reduce stress, eat well, and eat dark chocolate!”