Counselor becomes one needing encouragement

Editor’s Note: Every Tuesday in October, national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Tribune Chronicle is featuring stories about the cancer journeys of patients and their families.

GIRARD — Michelle Tringhese, a counselor at Preferred Care Counseling in Howland and Poland, is used to being the one who helps others.

Two months ago, the tables turned. On Aug. 10, Tringhese was diagnosed with Stage IIA breast cancer.

At first, acceptance didn’t come easy for her.

“I’m a helper. I am a counselor. I was the one who provided the help,” Tringhese, 43, of Girard said. “I am used to taking care of what I need to do. I have always been pretty self-sufficient. I am the one who helps people get through things.”

She learned to lean on others.

“You have to accept the help your support system is offering. Accept their encouragement,” she said.

Tringhese has her family, including her husband of 14 years, William, and their two children, Zaynah, 12, and Zachary, 10. She has her co-workers.

“The people I have at work, they have all been phenomenal. They have all been very supportive of me,” she said.

Tringhese is a member of St. Maron’s Church in Youngstown, a predominately Lebanese congregation. Her mother is Lebanese. For inspiration, Tringhese carries a Lebanese novena in her purse at all times. She has one at home as well. She also wears several relics.

“I have a lot of faith. Wearing the relics helps to keep myself calm and put things with God.”

Her brother, Michael Kermec, wrote on a GoFundMe page, “Those of us who know my sister know that she is a constant giver. We also know that she is smart and very strong. She will fight this, and she will win, we are all confident in that.”

She easily could have missed the diagnosis.

“I had a mammogram on June 22,” Tringhese said. “It was probably a few days after I got the letter back saying that everything is normal that I felt something in my right breast. This was the end of July.

“I really didn’t wait. I made an appointment with my OB-GYN gynecologist to have them look at it.”

She was scheduled for an ultrasound.

“When I had the ultrasound, the doctor could not say that it was just a cyst, or nothing to worry about.”

She was scheduled for a biopsy.

“The biopsy came back. You have to wait so much for the different things they put you through in the testing. I had convinced myself, and I had other people tell me, ‘You look too healthy. You should be fine.’ I have a good feeling about this.

“When I got the news, it turned my whole world upside down.”

She passed out when she heard the diagnosis.

“Everything went dark. It wasn’t very long. I think I realized I scared the doctor and my mom. I was like, ‘I’m OK. I’m OK.’ I really had convinced myself that everything was going to be OK.”

Stage II means the breast cancer is growing, but it is still contained within the breast, or growth has only extended to the nearby lymph nodes.

“If I would have just gone by my mammogram and maybe waited a few months, who knows what would have happened?” she said. “This is aggressive enough that it moved into my lymph node after not that long.

“When I first found out, it was hard. I was like, ‘What did I do? What did I do to create this?’ I couldn’t come up with anything I had done. I have always been a healthy person. It’s not like I eat poorly or anything.

“I do know that with the hormone receptors, I am estrogen positive. My tumor is estrogen positive. I am guessing this was caused with something to do with the estrogen,” she said.

Tringhese has started chemotherapy at the Hope Center in Howland.

“I love them there. They are all so wonderful,” Tringhese said. “I have to have two different sets of chemotherapy.”

The first involves four treatments every other week. “That is two different types of chemo at one time. And, it is harsh, very harsh,” she said.

She has two more treatments of this type of chemo left. Then she will have another 12 weeks of another kind of chemotherapy.

No one in Tringhese’s family has ever been diagnosed before.

“My mom had a nodule. It was removed, and that was that. I had the genealogy testing done. I don’t have the genes.”

Tringhese knows there will be surgery after the next chemo is completed. She is not sure if she will have a complete mastectomy. “That is a decision I will have to make,” she said.

Tringhese wears wigs.

“My hair started falling out the day before my second treatment. The chemo took my hair. I had a lot of hair. I have always had thick, curly hair. My hair was something that was part of my identity.”

Her second treatment came on a Tuesday.

“I noticed Monday at work that more had come out. I noticed it on my clothes. When I got out of the shower Tuesday, I did my same routine — I use a wide-toothed comb. As I was combing through, clumps of hair were coming out. My wastebasket in the bathroom was full of my hair.”

That Thursday, her stylist, a good personal friend, came to her house and cut off the rest of her hair. It will eventually grow back.

“The worst part of having cancer is dealing with the physical exhaustion. Before, I could be over the table helping my kids do homework for two hours.”

The chemo has caused her to not sleep very well. Her appetite isn’t really there. She doesn’t work her same hectic schedule that she used to.

Her brother established a GoFundMe page to help offset medical expenses.

“On top of this struggle, her insurance is preventive insurance, so most of this debt has to be paid out of pocket,” Kermec said. “Prayers are also always appreciated.”

Tringhese said, “Cancer doesn’t define me. It’s something I am going through. It’s a bump in the road.”