Doting sister, mom, caregiver

ABOUT JOSEPHINE, IN HER OWN WORDS:

  • I grew up in a loud, pasta-loving Sicilian family, and I am the youngest of three sisters.
  • Shortly after my divorce, I started working for my sister at her law office. Just like she always had, Donna was looking out for me.
  • After her diagnosis, my main focus was to care for my sister and make sure I took away as much of the burden as I could from her.
  • We know how blessed we are to work and share life together every day.

Meet Josephine

I grew up in a loud, pasta-loving Sicilian family, and I am the youngest of three sisters. Despite the age difference, my sisters and I have always been close—they were my protectors growing up, and still are today. The only difference is, now that we’re all grown up, I’m sometimes their protector, too.

I am Massachusetts-born, but moved to Florida when I was 12 years old, so this is now my home. Even when I was little, I dreamt of what my future would look like—a perfect husband, a white picket fence, and a closet full of Gucci bags. The first step in making that dream a reality after graduating high school was to move away for college. It didn’t take long for me to realize I wanted to be closer to my sisters and family, so I came back home and got married a couple of years later.

My husband and I divorced after 10 years together. But by giving birth to my two wonderful sons, I got the most precious gifts of my life out of that marriage.

Embracing My Family

Shortly after my divorce, I started working for my sister at her law office. Just like she always had, Donna was looking out for me—or protecting me, if you will—considering I was a divorced, single mom in need of a job. We were then, and still are, a very unique law office. Our clients absolutely love our family atmosphere. We treat each and every one of them as part of our extended Sicilian family. I have such a love for my job—not only do I get to spend time with my sister, but, as a paralegal, I’m able to help people through some of their darkest days. All I can hope is that I’m able to make a difference in people’s lives.

It’s natural for me to jump in and help when people’s lives take a difficult turn. So that’s what I did one day, when Donna’s life changed forever. She had found a pea-sized lump under her left arm, and shortly thereafter, her doctor called to say she needed a biopsy in order to rule out cancer. On April 2nd—Good Friday—Donna told me that the “ruling out” didn’t happen; she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. The moment Donna called our family to her house to share the news will forever be etched in my mind; it was the beginning of a journey and an introduction to our new “normal.” I think it was then the tables turned and I became Donna’s protector and caregiver.

Focusing On Donna

After her diagnosis, I continued my paralegal work at the office, but my main focus was to care for my sister and make sure I took away as much of the burden as I could from her—both at work and at home. I was there to provide the love, support, and care my sister needed as she went through treatment and recovery. I tried my best to make her laugh, redirect her thoughts from cancer, and keep a positive attitude. Finally, after her treatment ended, we were all able to breathe a deep sigh of relief. Life eased back into a more pleasant routine, and we set out to enjoy every moment of our lives.

Donna was almost five years out from her diagnosis, with no evidence of disease, when she started complaining that something felt off; there was something she just couldn’t shake, so she decided to go to the doctor and get checked out. I was with her when the nurse told her it was Stage IV. I will never forget the look on my sister’s face or the fear in her voice: her cancer was back.

It took all the strength I could muster up to comfort her and hold back my own tears. But I had to believe we would get through this. We, as a family, were going to fight it; we did it once, we could certainly do it again. I won’t lie and say I wasn’t scared for Donna, because I was. But as her sister, I was determined to stay positive and be the rock she needed me to be—the rock she’d always been for me.

In a strange way, Donna was expecting the cancer to come back. Donna needed to begin treatment right away, and she really wanted to talk to her doctor about IBRANCE, including the possible benefits and risks. When she met with her doctor, she found out that IBRANCE along with letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor, is for first-line treatment of postmenopausal women with HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer.

Her doctor and Donna agreed she’d start IBRANCE. She did experience side effects, including nausea and fatigue. Other people may also have other side effects, including low white blood cell counts and infections. In Donna’s case, we agreed with her oncologist that overall, she responded well to IBRANCE. Please know that this is just her experience, and others might be different. Donna stopped taking IBRANCE and letrozole in November 2016.

Being The Best Caregiver I Can Be

Since my sister’s recurrence, my role as her sister and caregiver has grown. I encourage her to eat healthy and exercise when she feels up to it. I also made sure she took IBRANCE and letrozole at the same time with her meal. It didn’t matter if she was in the middle of a client call; from what her doctor has said, correct timing of medicine and meals is important. Donna might not have always appreciated when I came running through the door with her medication and lunch, but I saw it as part of what I owe her as a sister.

Donna still gets tired, so as her paralegal, I make sure everyone and everything goes through me first. I make sure she has down time after a big trial, and I clear her schedule after a PET scan, so she can await the results without having to worry about court or meeting with a client. I may be her paralegal, but I’m her sister first.

In raising my boys, I learned that happiness comes from the people we love and surround ourselves with. In being invested in my sister’s well-being, it’s safe to say I’ve found new meaning in my life. I remind myself that it’s okay to cry; it’s okay to be angry and scared. And it’s okay to take time for myself and make sure my boys and I are well too. In fact, I believe I wouldn’t do my sister any favors if I forgot to live my own life. Being there for others requires strength that you replenish by looking after yourself. I focus on enjoying my sister. The things that Donna and I used to fight about or get upset over don’t bother us at all anymore. All in all, we know how blessed we are to work and share life together every day.

My faith has taught me to live for right now and not to worry about what the future may or may not hold. Worrying will just take the joy out of today and make me miss what’s going on right in front of me. I’ve yet to build my white picket fence, but I wouldn’t trade my life for the world. I’d rather have my family and Donna just the way they are. Right here with me.

Caregiver Josephine smiling

Josephine

Caregiver Ambassador

Josephine

Caregiver Ambassador

Josephine is Donna’s sister, coworker, caregiver, and rock. “Donna might not always appreciate when I come running through the door with her medication and lunch, but I see it as part of what I owe her as a sister to be militant that way.”

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