By Nikki Ross Inda - May 21, 2021
Routine exams and annual mammograms led to all three of Lisa Assetta’s cancer diagnoses. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, then tonsil cancer in 2018, followed by a breast cancer recurrence in 2020. Assetta underwent surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy at Moffitt Cancer Center.
“When my doctor said those three words ‘you have cancer,’ I felt shocked and scared,” Assetta recalled. “I’ve heard that phrase three times in my lifetime. The first time, I thought they meant I was going to die. But my cancers were all caught early and were treatable.”
Breast cancer runs in Assetta’s family. Both of her grandmothers were diagnosed with the disease, as was her sister. Assetta and her sister underwent genetic testing and neither tested positive for the two BRCA genes, which are commonly found in those with a family history of breast cancer.
“Our doctors have indicated that we likely have a familial predisposition to breast cancer, possibly with a gene that has yet to be identified,” Assetta said.
Assetta had a lumpectomy on each breast. Between each of her breast cancer diagnoses, her dental hygienist noticed inflammation in her throat during a cleaning. She was advised to follow up with her primary care physician and an ear, nose and throat specialist, which ultimately led to her tonsil cancer diagnosis.
“Cancer brought out some kind of super-human strength I didn’t know I had! I learned so much,” Assetta said. “Having cancer changed the way I think about the disease, relationships and life. It clarified who and what is important to me. I realigned my priorities and I’m grateful for every day. I feel positive and always try to look on the bright side.”
With her newfound lease on life, Assetta wants to give back to her community.
“I’m still standing. I believe there is a reason for that and I’m not going to neglect this blessing. I’m going to keep on moving toward the mission I am being led to achieve, even though I’m not sure what it really is – yet,” Assetta explained.
Assetta is helping others by joining forces with fellow cancer survivor and Moffitt team member Janelle Morales to raise funds for Miles for Moffitt through the Cancer Crushers team.
Assetta recently participated in the Tampa Bay Rays Salute to Survivors program at Tropicana Field. The life-long baseball enthusiast spent a lot of time at ballparks watching her dad coach and her brother play little league.
“When the MLB brought baseball to Tampa in 1998, I was excited to have a hometown team to root for,” Assetta recalled. “I’ve been a Rays super fan ever since.”
On May 10, Assetta hit a grand slam of her own when she finished chemo and had her port removed.
She has become a Moffitt volunteer, patient advisor and peer visitor through the cancer center’s Patient and Family Advisory Program.
She hopes to continue sharing coping skills with other patients facing a cancer diagnosis.