Ferlie A A Voice of Hope and Resilience

“For people who are going through what I’m going through, I want them to not be afraid, to feel empowered and to remain confident about the possibilities in life.”

When New Jersey resident Ferlie Almonte was diagnosed with triple-positive breast cancer, she turned to doctors at two RWJBarnabas Health hospitals. Ferlie elected to have a double mastectomy at Community Medical Center in Toms River, NJ, and received both chemotherapy and immunotherapy at Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus in Lakewood.

As a motivational speaker and resilience coach, Ferlie Almonte has made a career of helping other people tackle life’s challenges. But in November 2021, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was the one in need of advice.

She found the medical guidance and care she required through a multidisciplinary team of doctors and other health care professionals at Community Medical Center (CMC) and Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus (MMCSC).

“I’m grateful every single day,” says Ferlie, 60, of Toms River. “I can still continue to lead a good, vibrant life. I’m doing my best to stay healthy in mind, body and spirit.”

Now cancer-free, Ferlie can look back on a journey that—even for a person well versed in dealing with trials—took all the grit, determination, experience and wisdom she could muster.

A Long Road

Ferlie never felt a breast lump or any other symptoms, so she was surprised when a routine mammogram made a suspicious finding in her left breast. A biopsy showed that she not only had cancer but a subtype known as triple positive breast cancer. This meant her cancer was HER2 positive, estrogen receptor positive and progeste-ronereceptor positive—an aggressive form of the disease.

Yet the diagnosis also contained good news: The cancer was stage 1, so it was caught early, and effective treatments can specifically target triple positive breast cancer.

Sumy Chang, MD
Sumy Chang, MD

“We have made tremendous strides in breast cancer treatment,” says Sumy Chang, MD, a breast surgical oncologist at CMC. Among the most important advances has been development of the drug trastuzumab (Herceptin), a therapy that works specifically against HER2-positive cancer. “It’s made a huge difference,” Dr. Chang says.

Before receiving this treatment, Ferlie needed to undergo surgery at CMC to remove her cancerous growth. Dr. Chang talked with Ferlie about the pros and cons of lumpectomy versus mastectomy to remove the entire breast.

Ferlie weighed her options in light of her cancer type and a family history of breast and ovarian cancers. “I did not want to take any chances,” she says. “I went for double mastectomy to lessen my risk.”

In the face of this daunting decision, Ferlie found talking with Dr. Chang reassuring, even therapeutic. “She’s like an angel here on Earth,” Ferlie says. “You can feel the love, care and compassion she has.”

After surgery at CMC in December 2021, Ferlie worked with Horace Tang, MD, a medical oncologist and hematologist who oversaw her regimen of follow-up treatments at MMCSC.

Horace Tang, MD
Horace Tang, MD

In January 2022, Ferlie started chemotherapy treatments once a week for 12 weeks along with infusions of Herceptin every three weeks that continued through the year. She’ll continue taking a daily pill called letrozole (Femara) for five years to suppress estrogen in her body and help prevent cancer from recurring.

“She has responded to her treatments very well, has maintained a really good attitude and kept her spirits up,” Dr. Tang says. “She has a very good prognosis.”

Ferlie made the best of infusion treatments by chatting with patients and staff.

“The nurses are phenomenal because they take the time to get to know you and are very compassionate,” Ferlie says. “When you go for treatment, you feel the energy, and it’s very positive.”

In June, RWJBarnabas Health honored Ferlie as an “Amazing Save” at a Jersey Shore BlueClaws game, where— accompanied by Dr. Chang, Dr. Tang and members of her infusion team—she threw out the first pitch.

Called to Help Others

In July, Ferlie underwent a second surgery, for breast reconstruction, and soon felt on her way back to normal life.

After a long year that included three hospital stays in six months and extensive medical treatment, Ferlie looked forward to life events that she had put on hold during her treatment, such as celebrating her 60th birthday and traveling to Europe with her family.

“If you are always dwelling on all the worry and feeling sorry for yourself, it’s not helping,” she says. “And believe me, I know it’s not easy to motivate yourself when you don’t feel well. But I did the best I could—and am doing the best I can.”

Her goal now is to help other women do the same. She’s working on a book about her breast cancer journey that she hopes will lend support, encouragement and a fighting spirit to other women grappling with the disease.

“I know my purpose in life,” she says. “I know that I am a voice of hope and resilience. For people who are going through what I’m going through, I want them to not be afraid, to feel empowered and to remain confident about the possibilities in life.”

RWJBarnabas Health and Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—provide close-to-home access to the most advanced treatment options. To schedule an appointment with one of our cancer specialists call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.