Breast Cancer Awareness

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Cancer the size of a grain of sand: Breast cancer survivor speaks

Leah Sarconi says the cancer her mammogram found was so small, she never would have known she had cancer.
Posted at 2:00 AM, Oct 11, 2023

TUCSON, Ariz. — October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a disease the American Cancer Society says will impact one in eight women in the US.

Breast cancer is the second most deadly cancer for women, so we spoke with a survivor on the east side of town, to hear her story.

"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, " said Leah Sarconi. "So I'm stronger for it. Yeah. And I'm a survivor."

Sarconi has been cancer free for 11 years. But she'll never forget when her battle began in 2012. It was a year that should have been perfect.

"It was a tough year," she remembered. "My daughter got married on July 9th in Colorado, in a beautiful outdoor venue. It was just a perfect day in every way."

But things quickly escalated.

"I had a hysterectomy planned on July 20th," she explained. "And in those pre-op appointments, I had my mammogram, and they called back and said they needed to run more tests. Since I had a lumpectomy in 2005, I knew what that meant."

A few weeks later, she went back to the doctor.

"I went in middle of August and had the biopsies done," Sarconi said. "The doctor called the next day and said you have stage four cancer. So they recommended a double mastectomy."

Sarconi acted quickly, and less than five weeks after her hysterectomy, she had her second major surgery.

"They took eight lymph nodes," she said. "But it hadn't spread, so I had no chemo or radiation, which I later learned was very unusual."

Still, it made for a difficult recovery.

"My faith kept me going. And my church family. My prayer warriors, I couldn't have done it without them. It rocked me. But you know, I just believed that I was going to survive because I had a lot more ahead. And now I have four grandchildren."

Now, 11 years later, those precious grandchildren have never known a world where their "Grammy" has been battling cancer.

But Sarconi says she didn't truly start feeling like herself again, until 5 years after her diagnosis, when she discovered Knitted Knockers.

"These women all across the country, and now all across the world, make knitted prosthetics for breast cancer patients, and they're free," Sarconi explained. "They ask for a postage donation on their website. They're made out of cotton yarn, lightweight, and washable. It's just a lifesaver. You can wear him in your own bra. So after five years, I went bra shopping for the first time. It was just amazing, and that's what I have now."

Now, her message to women everywhere is a simple one: Beat cancer. Get screened.

"Do not put it off," Sarconi said. "Go get your mammogram. What they found in me was the size of a grain of sand. So it's not necessarily large. It's not necessarily something that you can readily feel. Get it done every year, no matter what. You just don't know. If you put it off. It could be too late. So just don't wait. It's not fun. It's uncomfortable... But the alternative is worse."

On Sunday, October 15th, the annual Making Strides of Greater Tucson walk is happening to support breast cancer awareness and treatment. If you'd like to support the cause, Claire Graham has a donation campaign set up on her Facebook page.

Claire Graham is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. She grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in musical theatre. Claire spent a decade in Washington state, where she worked in journalism, met her husband and welcomed their baby boy, before moving back home. Share your story ideas and important issues with Claire by emailing claire.graham@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.