South Shore residents Martha Cipullo and Sharon Ouellet exemplify the art of friendship and compassion for others. The two friends met years ago at Weymouth High School as students. After graduation, life sent them each on their own unique path, only to be reunited decades later as teachers in that very same school. Their friendship flourished from there, and neither could imagine that survivorship would be a destination on their journey together as friends. Just over five years ago, after a routine mammogram, Martha received the shocking news that she had breast cancer. With that surreal diagnosis, her world shifted dramatically from the normalcy of daily living to an uncertain new reality of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation—that spanned the course of a year.
“When I heard the words ‘you have cancer,’ I was not prepared for what would come,” Martha recalls. “Through past experiences caring for family and friends who had cancer, I knew the importance of support and encouragement, but I never imagined I would be on the receiving end of that.”
Born at South Shore Hospital, Martha’s family had always loved having expert medical care close to home. Being able to receive cancer treatments at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Hospital in clinical affiliation with South Shore Hospital allowed her local access to expert cancer care, without the added anxiety Boston traffic would bring.
Standing by Martha’s side as she finished the active part of her cancer treatment, Sharon didn’t realize that her world was about to take a shocking turn.
“I have a very strong family history of breast cancer, losing my mom when she was in her early fifties,” Sharon explained. “So from an early age, I’ve been very proactive — going for routine mammograms and living a healthy lifestyle.”
Because of Sharon’s family history, she was advised to pursue genetic testing and subsequently tested positive for a gene mutation known as BRCA2 — which puts you at a much higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancers. Knowing that her chance of developing one or both cancers was significant, she made the decision to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy as a preventive option to reduce the risk of cancer. Prior to breast surgery, she decided to also have an oophorectomy (surgical removal of one or both ovaries) because unlike the PAP test for uterine cancer, currently there is no test for ovarian cancer.
“Shockingly, after I had my ovaries removed, I found out that I had ovarian cancer,” Sharon said. “It was a very aggressive form of cancer, and genetic testing and follow-up cancer treatments very much saved my life.”
Today, Martha and Sharon are cancer survivors and grateful patients. As a way to show their appreciation for all the expert care and support they received and continue to receive at the Cancer Center, they both choose to volunteer as a part of their survivorship wellness plan.
As a 5-year cancer survivor,” Martha said, “having an opportunity to support others on their journey is an important part of my survivorship.”
When Martha and Sharon are not teaching, they can be found volunteering at the Cancer Center or South Shore Hospital, as active members of our Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC), and committed members of the Friends of South Shore Health System.
“My family, friends and caregivers made it possible for me survive and thrive during my journey with cancer,” Sharon said. “My lifetime gift to them is to pay it forward — because no one can survive this journey alone.”
As a way to celebrate life and friendship, Martha and Sharon are incorporating actual travel into their journey of survivorship. From Italy to Hawaii, they are celebrating significant moments along the way.
“You realize that it’s so important to enjoy life and to celebrate all the moments,” Martha said. “Whether those moments involve simple daily tasks, or seeing a special place that you’ve wanted to see your whole life, we will continue to celebrate each moment as it comes.”