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Sharon F Sharon Fantasia: To the Moon & Back

“The team at Community Medical Center was phenomenal. I have only good things to say about each of the doctors.”

Sharon Fantasia always got her annual mammograms, like clockwork. So when the Whiting woman was diagnosed with breast cancer almost two years ago, the news hit hard.

“I was devastated,” says the now-69-year-old. “I was caught completely off-guard.”

But Sharon’s shock quickly shifted to advocacy – for herself and others. She turned to the breast-cancer experts at Community Medical Center (CMC), an RWJBarnabas Health facility located in Toms River, for treatment and care. And she’s spreading awareness and support through her actions.

“I tell everyone to get a mammogram now!” says Sharon, who’s participated in a Susan G. Komen fundraising 5K -- and even got a tattoo of a pink ribbon and tiny boxing gloves.

Thorough testing & treatment

Sharon’s breast-cancer journey began in November 2014 when a routine mammogram indicated the need for a follow-up ultrasound. She was advised to seek medical care immediately and made an appointment at CMC’s Breast Center at the J. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center -- the only program in Ocean and Atlantic counties that is accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers.

At the Breast Center, Medical Director William M. Schulman, MD, “explained everything,” says Sharon. “He was very straightforward.”

In fact, the acclaimed surgeon continued to test Sharon’s lymph nodes, right up to the day of her surgery, to be certain the cancer had not spread to those glands. As a result, he found three affected lymph nodes, which he was able to remove along with the tumor.

Following surgery, treatment was overseen by oncologist Anil Ponnambalam, MD. Sharon also underwent radiation treatments at CMC, under the direction of Rajesh Iyer, MD, chair of the Radiation Oncology Department and chair of the Cancer Committee at CMC.

Emotional support

When Sharon’s hair fell out in large clumps one day in the shower, I “broke down and cried,” recalls the grandmother of four, who had her husband Anthony cut off the remaining strands.

She visited CMC’s Inspiration Boutique, where the staff taught her new makeup techniques and provided a flattering wig – which she later swapped for baseball caps with cancer-fighting messages.

“The team at Community Medical Center was phenomenal,” says Sharon. “I have only good things to say about each of the doctors.”

She also cites the Breast Center’s patient navigator, Kathé Sadler-Wright. “She’s dynamite; she’s there for you 110 percent,” says Sharon. For instance, the navigator guided Sharon through insurance issues, such as figuring out her co-payments. And she informed Sharon about various resources both at CMC and through other providers, including free counseling, massages and other therapeutic services.

In October 2015, Sharon returned to her job processing season-passes at a local amusement park – just a month after treatment – and recently celebrated her one-year anniversary of being “cancer-free.”

“On my worst days, I didn’t want to go on,” Sharon recalls – but she’s very glad she did. “My four grandkids were my big motivation.”

For more information about Community Medical Center or to schedule a mammogram, visit rwjbh.org/mammo.