Life, love and surviving breast cancer

Roxanna Zalmanek is a 13-year survivor of breast cancer.

When Roxanna Zalmanek was diagnosed with breast cancer and began chemotherapy treatment, the San Juan Island community did what it does best: supported her in a time of need.

Roxanna, now a 13 year survivor of breast cancer, said the assistance from fellow islanders was integral to helping herself and husband Charles Zalmanek, then-San Juan County Assessor, with being able to forge ahead when faced with life with cancer.

“The love of my husband Charles, our families, my close friends and this amazing community is what I give thanks for, as they played a huge part that only my heart truly knows,” she said.

Roxanna first detected the cancer herself in 2002 which looked like an indentation on her breast. In order to see if the cancer had spread, a biopsy on her sentinel lymph node was performed and found that the cancer had metastasized, resulting in 17 out of 21 axillary nodes testing positive for cancer.

Roxanna had surgery to remove the breast lump and began chemotherapy treatment in December 2002, and completed radiation treatment in August 2003. She credits her Low Dose/High Frequency radiation treatment as letting her continue at her job, and maintain a sense of normalcy.

“It helped me get more frequent treatment without getting so sick,” Roxanna said.

During her weekly chemotherapy treatments, local pilots with San Juan Eagles would fly her off-island for free on Fridays to circumvent the ferry schedule and long travel times. By Monday she would be back at work.

When the treatments got too intense and she felt ill, her coworkers at the Town of Friday Harbor donated their vacation hours to cover her time off and made a weekly calendar of scheduled meals that they contributed to Roxanna and her husband.

“Employees at the county and town, and people in the community really showed their willingness to help by making us some fantastic organic meals,” Roxanna said, which was no small feat since she follows an organic diet.

Even when she was feeling better, her friends and coworkers insisted that she should spend more time outside or in the garden rather than cooking. The contributed meals came for eight months.

“Enduring breast cancer and the treatment of it has been an eye opening experience. It has helped me to become a better person in many ways,” Roxanna said. “I think that I am now more compassionate and less judgmental.”

Roxanna said that since she recovered she hasn’t been outspoken about her experience aside from one-on-ones with other women with breast cancer, but believes it’s important that people know breast cancer can appear in different forms, like hers showing up as an indentation, and that there are many different treatments like the Low Dose/High Frequency.

Through it all, Roxanna says she is now healthy and appreciating her life like never before. Her husband Charles still sprinkles rose petals around the bathroom in the morning to show her his love like he would do when her treatments made her feel ill.

“Even though I had cancer, it really didn’t have me,” Roxanna said.