By Steve Blanchard - October 02, 2023
Throughout her breast cancer journey, which has spanned more than 17 years, Linda Wassum has remained optimistic. That’s why she thinks her oncologist approached her to participate in this year’s Portraits of Hope Exhibit at Moffitt Cancer Center’s Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Outpatient Center at the McKinley Campus.
Wassum is one of 20 patients featured in a photograph exhibit that celebrates the personalities behind the breast cancer diagnoses.
“I was told that I always have a positive attitude,” Wassum said. “When something doesn’t work, I always ask, ‘Well, what are we going to do now?’ I don’t give up hope and I don’t give up hope when I have progression or treatment fails.”
Wassum, a retired elementary school music teacher, was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer on Halloween in 2006, when she and her husband, Wayne, lived in Ohio. She found a lump deep in her right breast and had a mastectomy shortly after the new year.
“I got a scary diagnosis on the scariest day of the year,” Wassum quipped. “I came back home and passed out candy. I needed to get my head around the diagnosis. The next day, I was at a stop light on my way to work with tears just streaming down my face. When the light turned green and the car behind me honked, I realized I was not doing anyone any good for feeling sorry for myself.”
That’s when Wassum, now 74, said her attitude changed.
When she and her husband relocated to Tampa Bay in 2014, they never expected that they would again face a cancer diagnosis. But a year later, in 2015, doctors found a recurrence in Wassum’s mastectomy scar. In 2020, she learned the cancer was metastatic and had impacted her liver.
Earlier this year, she was diagnosed with angiosarcoma, a soft tissue tumor that can develop in the inner lining of blood and lymph vessels.
“My friend had gone to Moffitt and recommended it, so that’s what I did, I made an appointment,” Wassum said. “I’m there often. In fact, my husband and I celebrated our 50th anniversary at Moffitt.”
The resilience shown by Wassum and her husband is what makes them such good candidates for Portraits of Hope, according to Dr. Avan Armaghani, a breast oncologist at Moffitt with a love of amateur photography.
"This exhibit really shows different points of each patient’s breast cancer journey."- Dr. Avan Armaghani, Breast Oncology Program
“This exhibit really shows different points of each patient’s breast cancer journey,” said Armaghani, who started the exhibit in 2021. “Behind each type of breast cancer are patients with different experiences, from different backgrounds. We want these photos to celebrate that.”
Wassum submitted a photo of herself and Wayne, holding a quilt she sewed herself. It represents a large part of her life and a big part of how she manages her health.
“Quilting is something I do when I’m doing the chemotherapy infusion,” Wassum said. “All of the blocks in the quilt were done by members in my quilt guild. I sewed them together.”
With a metastatic diagnosis, Wassum understands that cancer treatment will be a part of her routine for the rest of her life. However, she said that she is continuing to enjoy life and sees her ongoing treatments as just a part of her journey.
“I look pretty healthy, and people are surprised when they learn I have metastatic breast cancer,” Wassum said. “I walk 3 ½ miles each day and really enjoy the time I get with my two young grandsons. They are a joy and just so funny. I spend time with them and with my husband, as well as my quilting friends. I keep busy and try to do all the things I did before cancer.”
And that includes quality time with her husband, who Wassum said has been with her to every appointment, checkup, scan and surgery.
“He jokes that our date night is going to Moffitt Cancer Center,” she said. “There are worse places to be, I suppose.”
The Portraits of Hope Exhibit will be on display throughout October at the Schulze Family Foundation Outpatient Center at the McKinley Campus.