"I was afraid of living sick," Brande Plotnick recalls. "My life was going finally the way I wanted it to go."
AMBLER, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- Hundreds of people will gather at Cooper River Park in Camden County on Sunday for the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk.
Today, 90% of women will be alive five years after their diagnosis. But they want to thrive, not just survive.
For Brande Plotnick of Montgomery County, fitness has been a big part of her life before and after cancer.
When Brande got the diagnosis in 2021, she wasn't worried about dying.
"I was afraid of living sick," she recalls. "My life was going finally the way I wanted it to go. I have a great career and colleagues and friends that I love."
And she was never fitter or stronger, thanks to her challenging workouts.
So, despite having Stage 0 DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) cancer, Brande decided against a lumpectomy, radiation, and hormone treatment in favor of a double mastectomy, in part because of breast cancer in her family.
"I wouldn't need all of that follow-up. And, it would just give me a little bit more peace of mind," she notes.
Because her maternal grandmother had breast cancer, Brande had been getting regular MRI exams in between her annual mammogram.
After deciding on the double mastectomy, she also decided against breast reconstruction, after learning about the concept of "living flat."
"It was like a light bulb went on for me," she says. However, Brande is disappointed she didn't find out about "living flat" until she stumbled across it online.
"That option should be presented right along with reconstruction," she notes.
For her, reconstruction had too many cons, such as multiple operations, a lack of sensation in the reconstructed breasts, potential health risks from implants, and the need to replace implants every 10 years.
Of breast implants, she notes, "They do carry the FDA's strongest warning, which is a box warning because they do have a link to a very rare blood cancer."
She also dismissed arguments that clothes don't fit right if there's no reconstruction.
"Many of my clothes fit better these days," she notes.
Being so fit enabled Brande to rebound faster after her surgery.
In two months, with guidance from coaches at her gym and modifications to the exercises, she was lifting weights again.
The gym community also helped her heal.
"They cooked me homemade meals and brought them to me. They did fundraising on my behalf," she says with gratitude.
"I believe community matters a lot in terms of someone's overall fitness," says Chris Plentus, owner of Kanna Fitness in Ambler.
Brande says breast cancer taught her to be a "squeaky wheel."
She speaks out on patient issues and concerns she feels aren't taken seriously or discussed enough.
"I don't leave until all my questions are answered. I'm not looking for a physician to be a Yes person for me. But if they told me no, they better have a good reason," she says.
And she says if you don't feel supported by your care team, find a new one.
"Don't be afraid to be a consumer."