Bernadette Zizzo -- co-owner of Art Frenzie in Wilton Manors – was diagnosed with LCIS, a rare form of breast cancer in her right breast in December of 2010.
From the start the 42-year-old knew what she was up against.
“I was no stranger to LCIS,” Zizzo says. My mother died from the same kind of cancer, and I understood its severity right away.”
What she didn’t anticipate, however, were the financial woes she would have to overcome in order to receive treatment, nor the unintended benefits that would come as a result of her struggles. Her hardships led her to form the “Knock Out Cancer 4 The Cure Foundation.”
After she noticed a lump in her right breast in November of 2010, she immediately went for a mammogram but couldn’t afford it. So when a friend recommended obtaining a grant from the Susan G. Komen Foundation, she didn’t waste time.
“Surprisingly, I received approval for the procedure fairly quickly,” Zizzo says. “Within a couple of weeks, they had approved the distribution of grant money for my mammogram.”
The mammogram confirmed the existence of an abnormal lump in her right breast and an ultrasound was ordered. Like the initial mammogram, it too was covered by the Susan G. Komen Foundation and supplemented by funds from Broward General Hospital where the procedure was conducted.
A biopsy quickly followed and confirmed her worst fear — the tumor was malignant. Her case was then turned over to Broward General Hospital’s financial assistance division (M.O.P.E.D).
While the cancer had not spread to any other parts of her body she says her attending physician, Dr. Nicholas Tranakas, recommended that she have her right breast removed and, as a precautionary measure, opt to remove the other breast due to LCIS’ high rate of occurrence in the unaffected breast.
“I didn’t even give it a second thought,” she says. “I told him to go for it. The decision was immediate.”
M.O.P.E.D., however, was hardly as decisive in distributing her funds to undergo the recommended double mastectomy.
“Not only did the process take six to seven months for approval, but M.O.P.E.D. only wanted to pay for and approve the removal of the affected breast even against the recommendation of Dr. Tranakas,” Zizzo says.
In the end she says, Dr. Tranakas had to write a letter to the chairman of the board of directors at Broward General to convince the medical director that the condition was more serious than it was being considered. Zizzo finally did get the funding approved for the removal of both breasts along with breast implants in a concurrent procedure.
It was during this self-described “agony of the approval process” that Zizzo, along with her friends Pamela Dodsen, Debbie Weisinger, and Debbi Burke, decided to be pro-active in attempting to ensure that this would never have to affect the treatment of another woman or man with breast cancer again.
The fruits of their brainstorming gave rise to the newly formed “Knock Out Cancer 4 The Cure Foundation,” and they enlisted of Dr. Rod Hurt as the foundation’s medical advisor.
Debbi Burke, (Zizzo’s former partner of nine years and co-owner of Art Frenzie) who sits on the board of directors and helped organize the foundation’s first official fundraising event, says the response from the Wilton Manors community was overwhelming.
A local bar, Sidelines Sports Bar, hosted the foundation’s inaugural event earlier this month and raised nearly $4,200.
“We had six to eight hundred people show up despite terrible weather and had themes each night that drew different crowds and really demonstrated the communities’ support for our cause,” Burke says.
Zizzo, though still recovering from surgery, and limited in mobility, even made an appearance for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
As for Zizzo’s surgery, she seemed well on the road to recovery until two to three weeks later when she developed an infection in her new breasts.
Under the knife she went again last month to have her implants removed and she is continuing her recovery, as of print, at her home just outside of Wilton Manors.
In the end, though, despite two major surgeries in nearly as many weeks, she downplays the difficulty of her recovery and seems to completely disregard her own healing process.
She said she will “make it through based on the power of her will alone.” Instead, she concludes thinking only about the others whom she hopes to help avoid the struggles she’s undergone.
“My hope, and the reason I started this foundation, is so that women and men, gay and straight alike, can have the opportunity to have not just these procedures done in a timely manner – and not have to wait for all kinds of approvals – but so they can have the funds available to them and not have to worry about all the red tape I went through to get the help they need.”
More information on the foundation can be found on the Knock Out Cancer 4 The Cure Foundation’s official Facebook page.