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November 8, 2013

Crucial catches

2-time survivor honored

GROVE CITY AREA — A Grove City woman has made two touchdowns against breast cancer – which was celebrated at the Pittsburgh Steelers game on Sunday, Oct. 20.

Kathy Dittrich, 66, was one of eight women who represented the National Football League’s/American Cancer Society’s “A Crucial Catch” game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens.

“A Crucial Catch” brings attention to annual breast cancer screenings for women age 40 and over. Dittrich, who volunteers with the Society’s Mercer County chapter, was picked from a drawing she entered that was held by the national Society.

More than 15 other women represented at “A Crucial Catch” for UPMC and Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, she added.

“I was excited I won something,” she said. “Then I thought, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this.’ ” However, the women’s names were not announced at the game.

“We went down in the line and got a Steelers shirt with pink ribbons and lettering and that’s what we wore on the field,” Dittrich noted.

They also gave the women a pink Terrible Towel to commemorate Breast Cancer Awareness Month, celebrated in October.

While the Steelers practiced, the announcers called the women to the field, where Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin and Pittsburgh Pirates Coach Clint Hurdle “shook hands and said ‘congratulations,’ ” Dittrich said.

Pirates player Andrew McCutcheon also shook hands with the survivors and Steelers player Ryan Clark walked up to a few of the women before they left the field and said, “‘I need some lovin’,’” she added, and he gave them a hug.

The ladies were given boxed lunches during the event and a nice view of the game “not far from the goal post,” Dittrich said. Her husband Ted Dittrich, 77, enjoyed the day with her.

The last time she saw a live Steelers game “was when Terry Bradshaw played,” she said. “It was very nice.”

It was also very nice “Talking to other cancer survivors,” Dittrich added. “I think it helped.”

A mammogram in 2003 showed Dittrich had a mass in her right breast “the size of a piece of salt,” she said. She initially had a lumpectomy, but her oncologist at Magee recommended a mastectomy.

“I was shocked but I was OK. I prepared myself,” she said, until stage 2 cancer showed on a mammogram of her left breast eight months later when Dittrich was in the process of getting reconstructive surgery on the right one.

“I had a hard time accepting it. I did everything I was supposed to do (the first time),” she said. The oncologist said she didn’t have to have a mastectomy the second time, but she opted for it – and the reconstruction – again.

“I said I wouldn’t go through this again every year,” Dittrich said. “Mastectomies saved me from radiation and chemo.”

Between the biopsies, lumpectomy, mastectomies and reconstruction, she had eight surgeries in 14 months from August 2003 to December 2004.

Biopsies show that the cancers were related to Dittrich taking estrogen replacement therapy for menopause, she said.

“My oncologist said I had too much estrogen in my body,” Dittrich said. My gynecologist was so upset. He said ‘These drug companies say it’s not harmful, what’s a doctor supposed to do?’ The thing about it people don’t realize is soy is a natural estrogen.”

Current statistics show that one out of eight women get breast cancer. However, Dittrich was told by a doctor at Magee that “someone taking estrogen will raise that to 1 out of 3,” she said.

That same doctor told her to continue the estrogen “‘if it helps you through menopause,’” she quoted him. “That was in 2003. I’m sure a lot of things have changed.”

There is no breast cancer in Dittrich’s family. Coming on 10 years of being cancer free, “I have to say it’s changed my life,” she said.

In the past three years, the Mercer County Cancer Society chapter has called Dittrich to help women get through a mastectomy. The majority of them are in their 50s, but some are younger, she said.

She was asked to help when she first got cancer “But I couldn’t accept the cancer, so how could I help anyone else?” Dittrich said. “When I got it eight months later, I was really down. I was wondering where else it was in my body.”  

The biggest issue for women is feeling they will lose their femininity if they lose their breasts.

At the Steelers game a young breast cancer survivor kept saying, “I’m boob-less. I’m boob-less,” Dittrich said. “Even at this age, I can never go without them. ... I wouldn’t look badly on anyone who wouldn’t, but it helped my self esteem. I am still a good person even without breasts.”

Dittrich developed an auto immune disorder from her first silicone breast implants, which she believes disappeared when she had them replaced with saline.

Many women don’t want to go through the reconstructive surgery, she said.

She noted that her husband “wouldn’t care” if she didn’t have them, either. “He’s just glad I’m here,” Dittrich said. They have two grown children in their 40s.

The grandmother of six retired last year after working for Dick Stevenson for 23 years; first when he was an appraiser in Grove City and then a state representative.

In Pittsburgh for years Dittrich took part in the Susan G. Komen walk to fight breast cancer. “I met one woman with stage 4 cancer. They said she had a year to live and she survived 20 years,” she said. “They have so much more knowledge now than then. Don’t ever give up.”

Dittrich is also an advocate of annual mammograms.

In her cancer ordeal, she found her strength in faith.

“The first time I had cancer, and even the second, people said they prayed for me at church,” she said. “I have to say that’s what got me through. It gave me strength. I believe in prayer.”

This story was published Oct. 23, 2013

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