Stories of Survival

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, two South County residents recount their inspiring fights

Jordan Mazor PC Downtown Photo
Downtown Photo

Jordan Mazor

Jordan and Craig Mazor’s “in sickness and in health” wedding vows were tested just four months after they were exchanged. Only 28 years old, Jordan had a lump in her left breast that a doctor had dismissed as dense tissue two years earlier.

She says it was “a complete shock” to learn she had Stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma, which had spread to nearby lymph nodes. “Our world was turned upside down,” Jordan recalls. “My husband cried, which I’d never seen.”

Her mom, Lisa Racic, a nurse in Loxley, Alabama, flew to meet “the dream team” at Boca Raton Regional Hospital’s Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute, including oncologist Dr. Jane Skelton, breast surgeon Dr. Joseph Colletta, and radiation oncologist Dr. Rashmi Benda.

“We made a plan—and my burial wasn’t part of it,” Jordan says. ”I felt hopeful.”

They started with a double mastectomy in December 2017. “When I woke up my body was changed,” she says. “That’s when it really hit.”

She adds that her husband was a real hero during this difficult time. “He’d get me food at 3 in morning, with no complaining. We were in it together.”

She began chemotherapy in January 2018. Her shoulder-length hair fell out in clumps while she ran on the beach. “I’m losing my hair, but I still have my running shoes,” she posted online. Her mom correctly diagnosed her “LOL” as an “SOS” and flew down.

That weekend the couple’s dog died of cancer—and her mom shaved Jordan’s head and Craig shaved his. “Cancer had stolen from me again and again: first my boobs, then my hair, my dog, and my life as I knew it.”

At her three-hour chemo transfusions, she awas able to find some camaraderie and hope with the help of “the Breasties,” a band of six young women. “We talked about what we’d do when we were better.”

In July she started six weeks of radiation. When she’d hear the bell ring—symbolizing the end of someone’s treatment—she longed for her turn. “That bell is everything.” Finally, on August 16, radiation ended, and she rang the bell. “I even gave a speech.”

Breast reconstruction came the following month. By 2019 she went skydiving on her thirtieth birthday. “I thought the worst was over.”

But radiation had wrecked skin on her breast, forming scar tissue, and a dangerous staph infection led to removal of an implant in May 2020.

Now 31, Mazor hopes an August surgery will be her last. The surgeon rebuilt her breast with muscle from her mid-back, a procedure called latissimus dorsi flap. “A bunch of the Breasties have the flap, and we’re comparing,” she says.

Unfortunately, one Breastie isn’t among them. Not yet 40, Chrissy Miller died in early August. Jordan, who has a five-year survival rate of 85 percent, struggles with survivor guilt.

“Jordan before cancer and Jordan after cancer are two different girls,” she says. “I’m no longer naive or bubbly, and I’m searching for who I am. But I’m on the path to healing and happiness, and I realize how precious life is.” 

Tara Gustman PC Downtown Photo
Downtown Photo

Tara Gustman

Tara Gustman was surprised when her gynecologist urged her to get a mammogram—that day—on New Year’s Eve 2017. The fitness buff, then 34, received the results on January 9. “It was a huge shock and tongue twister: Grade 3, Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma,” she says. “I didn’t cry or ask why. I toughened up.”

The mother of two girls, then 3 and 5, called her husband, Michael, from the car. He asked whether she wanted to keep her diagnosis private or share it. With one in eight women diagnosed with breast cancer, she chose to help others by documenting her journey.

In February 2018 she had a double mastectomy at the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “Whatever I could do to get cancer out of my body, I wanted to do.”

She began a series of 16 chemo sessions that March. Extreme nausea and exhaustion weren’t the worst symptoms; two weeks in, her hair fell out, including her eyelashes. “It was far harder than losing my breasts,” says Tara. “Now the world could see I had cancer, and I didn’t want to be pitied.”

To set a positive tone for her daughters, who loved having their hair brushed and braided, she included them when a friend shaved her head while they played Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song.”

“I tried to wear wigs, but my girls weren’t having it,” Tara recalls. “They said, ‘Be who you are.’ That was a powerful message they taught me.”

Tara also found strength in the chemotherapy room, of all places. “The nurses are walking angels,” she says. So were five other bald, young women, the Breasties, including Jordan Mazor. “We had ongoing jokes, took our photos together, and started a WhatsApp group. We’ll have this bond forever.”

Four weeks after completing chemo, Tara started seven weeks—33 rounds—of radiation. “I thought after chemo it would be easy,” she says. “But your skin peels off from third-degree burns, and the skin underneath blisters.”

She was in such pain she debated holding back on her blog, Let Me Get These Off My Chest (letmegettheseoff
. But she realized support went both ways. “When I was rock-bottom, I received love from people I didn’t even know.”

Despite ringing the bell in August 2018 upon completing radiation, her battle wasn’t over. She expected reconstructive surgery that November to be easy. “It’s the step in the journey that gets pushed to the side,” she says. “It’s not just a free boob job.”

Her skin was so burned from radiation that her incisions wouldn’t close, landing her in the emergency room on New Year’s Day 2019. “My doctor ordered me not to move or lift anything so the wound could heal. I laid in bed for 24 days. I did not shower or lift or hug my daughters.”

Her body took a full year to heal, and she notes that, “Until there’s a cure for cancer, I won’t be cancer-free.”

Despite her difficult journey, Tara credits cancer as her wakeup call. “I no longer take for granted the simple moments. Every day is a gift. I’m so grateful.” 

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