A three-time breast cancer survivor and native Bostonian born and raised in Arlington, Massachusetts, Lisa Barreto began her search for support in 2002 while a re-entry student at Ventura College (VC) in Ventura, California. At 44, two months into her first semester, she was diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) breast cancer found in two spots within her left breast during a routine annual mammogram. She underwent mastectomy surgery that June and started breast reconstruction surgery two months later. Radiation and chemotherapy were not needed. Lisa scheduled her mastectomy and reconstructive surgeries around her academic studies keeping in mind her academic goals.
Providing Lisa with much love and encouragement were her husband, Bob, her East Coast family, and the Ventura College community. Lisa soon realized how her breast cancer education and her personal and professional experiences could be used to assist others as she became determined to learn and share more. Taking avid notes and planning four surgeries around her college studies, in the fall of 2002, Lisa started co-facilitating VC’s Breast Cancer Education & Advocacy Group (VCBCEAG). In 2004, Lisa graduated with honors earning her Associate’s Degree in liberal arts from Ventura College. Selected as a Regents Scholar, she transferred to the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) to continue her four-year academic studies. At the same time, she attended weekend mediation classes at the univeristy professional extension program. In 2006, Lisa earned a certificate in Negotiation and Mediation from UCSB’s Professional Extension Program after undergoing yet another breast cancer related surgery. In 2006, she also underwent a laparascopic hysterectomy as a preventative.
In 2007, Lisa received her Bachelor’s Degree from UCSB in interdisciplinary studies focusing on English, Sociology and Anthropology. She was selected as Student Marshal for UCSB’s 2007 Arts & Humanities commencement. There, Lisa led her commencement class carrying UCSB’s blue banner with four gilded words: “Let There Be Light!”
In November 2007, the Ventura College Breast Cancer Education and Advocacy Group turned into a 501(c)(3) non-profit Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation (ROL). Under Lisa’s leadership, RoL became the only all-volunteer professional group focusing solely on breast cancer educations, advocacy, emotional and social support within Ventura County, California.
In December 2011, almost ten years after her first diagnosis, Lisa was diagnosed with a second new breast cancer in her remaining right breast after discovering a .6 cm lump during a routine self-breast exam. She immediately set appointments with several doctors, had a breast MRI, several digital mammograms and an ultrasound. It took all three diagnostic tools, including an ultrasound guided biopsy, to detect a Stage I invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC). The post operative report after a second mastectomy revealed a third cancer–lobular carcinoma insitu (LCIS).
In February 2012, Lisa underwent a second mastectomy surgery followed by four reconstructive surgeries in March, May, and August of that same year and another in April 2013. Since her second breast cancer was spotted early, and she immediately reported it to a doctor, radiation and chemotherapy treatment were not recommended. She received close follow-up care from two oncologists, her health and longevity functional medicine doctor, her gynecological oncologist, and her reconstructive surgeon.
In April 2015, Lisa received a third breast cancer diagnosis when lumps, first thought to be fat necrosis from reconstructive surgery, was diagnosed as stage IIIC invasive breast cancer. Lisa underwent a third and fourth mastectomy with a bi-lateral mastectomy of both reconstructed breasts (her right side being a “modified radical mastectomy”, with the removal of 34 lymph nodes, and a “simple mastectomy” profalatic left breast mastectomy. After having a total of four mastectomies, Lisa chose to have no more breast reconstruction and is flat-chested without two prosthetic breast forms within a pocket bra or camisole. Three weeks following surgery, Lisa started one round of four chemotherapy treatments followed by 6-1/2 weeks of radiation. She is taking the aromatase inhibitor, Arimidex, orally for ten years and has lymphedema (swelling) of her right hand, wrist and arm using daily compression devices and weekly manual lymph drainage for prevention of heavy swelling.
Lisa continues her dedication to breast cancer education and advocacy. Her breast cancer story is documented on her blog at www.CaringBridge.org under the blog name: LisaBarreto (with no spaces in between). This site provides free information and anyone is welcome to read it by signing up. Her book, Eating Daisies, has been published through Two Trees Publishing (Ventura, CA) and Blurb.com She can also be viewed on local TV interviewed by local thriver, Suz Montgomery, on her show Schmooze with Suz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZVTSehgMYA) and by Neil Andrews (https://vimeo.com/170217438?ref=em-share).
Bob Barreto has been married to Lisa for 25 years. Half of those years have been spent supporting Lisa’s three bouts with breast cancer and her work in helping to create and lead the Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation. Their journey has been a cohesive marital partnership as he, too, encourages the quality of life concept by supporting many women living with breast cancer, their spouses and partners and other family caregivers associated with them. Bob recognizes those husbands who face their own adversities of living with someone with breast cancer. Together, Bob and Lisa assist many in Ventura County and around the country including children whose parents are trying to find ways to cope. Bob is now an expert in charting medications to help manage pain levels, nausea, headaches and other side effects caused by treatment. He also has created a notebook system where he organizes documents such as medical tests/records, meeting notes with doctors, and matching EOBs (Explanation of Benefits from medical insurance) with incoming medical bills.
Both Bob and Lisa hold certificates in Therapeutic Listening Care (TLC) from the Adventures In Caring Foundation in Santa Barbara–an organization where they volunteered for several years visiting patients in hospitals, assisted living and private residences. Their volunteer work also includes appearances at fundraising events benefitting RoL’s vision to maintain an independent RoL Breast Cancer Resource Center located at 1500 Palma Drive, #239, Ventura, CA 93003 by weeknight and weekend appointments. To set an appointment, call 805-308-3456.
Experienced networkers, both Lisa and Bob can be seen greeting people throughout Ventura County gathering and sharing resources to assist anyone affected by breast cancer. Attending Saturday BreastFests (every second Saturday of the month at Mimi’s Cafe in Ventura), and other special RoL events, Bob makes himself available to men as they open up and express how breast cancer affects their lives and to discuss new ways to cope that will help them focus on their quality of life as well.
In September 2002, Lisa held the first meeting of the VC Breast Cancer Education and Advocacy Group (VCBCEAG) in the now closed Re-Entry & Women’s Center at Ventura College. It consisted of just three thrivers, one VC reporter and one VC photographer. By focusing on providing education and special events, a group of women along with the support of their spouses, soon found the group working together to become a 501(c)(3) non-profit. In 2007, the Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation was formed.
EDUCATION – Coping with Breast Cancer
In 2002, while a speech class student at Ventura College, Lisa wrote and presented her final exam speech entitled “Staying Alive”, which she now refers to as, “The History of My Breasts.” Her speech professor, Simon Waltzer, encouraged her throughout her need to learn how to speak about such a sensitive subject. Her Women’s Health professor, Edith Conn, invited her to teach a class on her experiences with breast cancer. From these experiences, Lisa created her presentation, “Coping with Breast Cancer”, which she shares with college students in Women’s Health, and Human Sexuality classes, University Women’s Centers and various community organizations. Using unusual hand-outs (her adult “Show and Tell”) creates a realistic learning experience that encourages an interesting question and answer period. As well, after the presentation some female students speak with Lisa in private regarding various lumps they’ve discovered as they immediately apply the knowledge Lisa has shared.
Students soon realize the importance of performing their own breast self-exams, seeing a doctor immediately when noticing an unusual lump, asking for a biopsy, or choosing to seek another doctor for a second opinion. They also learn how important they can be in helping someone who receives a breast cancer diagnosis.
A short DVD, “Blue Jay,” starring Cindy Dickson, is also seen by many. Cindy’s name now adorns the first breast cancer resource library in Ventura County started by the education & advocacy group and housed at Ventura College until a resource center opens.
During the presentation, Lisa also passes out mammogram reports and digital films evidencing her breast cancer and delivers the speech she wrote while attending VC during her first bout with breast cancer. This provides a deeper awareness to students so they can learn to understand those who are living through their breast cancer experiences. Lisa’s focus in teaching the general public how to become their own health advocates is extremely beneficial. She believes it is especially important when many who become patients appear lost in a mirage of managed health care systems that have little time or skills to listen twice and understand that breast cancer is not just a medical illness, but a “social” illness as well.
In 2003, the first monthly breakfast gatherings, aka BreastFests, were held at the Hill Street Cafe in Ventura, CA. The numbers increased and in three years, breast cancer survivor-thrivers and their families and friends starting holding their monthly (2nd of the month) BreastFests at Mimi’s Cafe in Ventura, CA by the Pacific View Mall.
In 2006, the people of Ribbons of Life started the first-in-the-nation RoL Breast Cancer Education Scholarship. RoL’s scholarship is given specifically to a breast cancer survivor-thriver who seeks education as a way of coping and moving on with their life.
On Saturday, October 14, 2014, the professional volunteers and friends of the Ribbons of Life Breast Cancer Foundation (RoL) opened Ventura County’s first “all volunteer” non-profit Breast Cancer Resource Center decorated by Ethan Allen Ventura using funds raised by various organizations and groups. This center allows one-on-one in person education to those newly diagnosed with breast cancer as well as others in need of education and emotional support.