Now cancer-free, Roberta Lombardi is helping women facing this same diagnosis she had.
Roberta Lombardi from Madison, Wisconsin is a beloved wife and mother, as well as a successful businesswoman. But she is also a cancer survivor.
Lombardi’s own journey with cancer began back in September of 2016, when a breast self-examination uncovered a lump. After undergoing a mammogram, sonogram and biopsy, her results revealed a breast cancer diagnosis. The next 14 months of treatment turned Lombardi’s life upside down, but with a good health insurance plan, a committed medical team, and tremendous support from her family, she was able to fight back.
Now cancer-free, Lombardi is helping women facing this same diagnosis and the ones who may not have the financial security that she had. In January of 2018, she created Infinite Strength, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping breast cancer patients at Smilow Cancer Hospital who are struggling with the many out-of-pocket expenses that come with this life-threatening condition.
The funds raised by the organization are split evenly between miscellaneous financial expenses and the Paxman Scalp Cooling System, a technology that works by freezing hair follicles during chemotherapy in an attempt to prevent hair loss. “Cancer is a disease that affects everybody, and it really is a battle. The costs are staggering, and for some people, it’s a very, very difficult situation. We simply want to make the cancer diagnosis and treatment as easy as possible for those people who don’t have the means to do that for themselves” said Lombardi.
Making a difference in the healing process, both physically and emotionally
Lombardi knows first-hand how expensive cancer treatment can be, as well as the strength that it takes to tackle the disease. Her treatments included chemotherapy, chemotherapy-related therapies, a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgeries. The out-of-pocket expenses began before her first treatment and then came costs for parking, wigs, hats, and headwraps.
While Lombardi was fortunate enough to have caught the cancer at an early stage and to be able to cover her expenses, she recognizes that not everyone is able to do so. “When my husband and I were first together we did not have a lot. Had I gotten that diagnosis when we first got married, almost 20 years ago, it would have broke us and that’s why I know how lucky I am and I feel for people that don’t have that financial wherewithal” she said.
Lombardi recalled waiting for her weekly treatments and observing her environment in the infusion room. It was then that she began noticing all of the other patients at the center and the emotional and physical struggles that they were going through. She only wishes that the Paxman System was available to her while she was undergoing treatment, stating that it could have saved her a lot of mental anguish. “You’ve already lost so much and you don’t recognize yourself once you get to that point and it’s really, it’s very defeating when you look in the mirror and you don’t have any hair” she said.
Dr. Sarah S. Mougalian, Lombardi’s medical oncologist at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven, said that hair loss is a common occurrence among the women she treats for breast cancer and unfortunately, it takes its toll on her patients. “To be able to help with that transition, even if it’s just a wig or a pretty scarf or in this case, helping to preserve hair, it can make a huge difference in a women’s perception of herself and a women’s ability to mentally get herself through what can be a really tough time, a really rough patch in her life” she said.
Reclaiming beauty and strength
Almost everyone knows someone who has been touched by breast cancer. But the truth of the matter is that until one is diagnosed with the disease, they do not realize the immense impact that it can have on the mind and body. That being said, a lot of physical changes and emotional stress are inevitable. “When you’re in and you’re having chemo and you’re on meds, it does change you. I was always a very high energy person and pretty happy and you know the effects of the treatments…it can actually make you depressed” said Lombardi.
After completing breast cancer treatment, feeling comfortable and feminine was very important to Lombardi. So, when she was given the go-ahead to wear any type of undergarment of her choosing, she searched for the right choices for her. But when she could not find a bra that fit all her criteria, she went about designing one. Hence, the birth of Infinite Beauty.
Infinite Beauty is a brand line that features bras for patients who have undergone mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Dubbed the Felicia after Lombardi’s grandmother, the bra is lined with a thin layer of neoprene, which helps to keep the wearer warm by regulating body temperature. It also helps to control chest spasms. “This is for when you want to move on with your life and you want a pretty lingerie, but you want it to help certain side effects that you’re just going to be stuck with. It alleviates those side effects” said Lombardi. In the near future, she plans to expands Infinite Beauty with new products and styles.
Not the same, but better and stronger
This year, Infinite Strength’s inaugural fundraiser, “An Evening in Pink” took place at the Pine Orchard Yacht and Country Club in Branford, Connecticut on Saturday, May 12th. Tickets were priced at $200 per person and the special evening comprised of cocktails, hor d’oeuvres, and a raw bar by the water, followed by a sit-down dinner and dancing to a live band. “Roberta’s in a great position to give back to the community and give back to patients who might not be able to have the experience that she did. Going through cancer is tough for everybody, but being without financial means can make it that much harder” said Dr. Mougalian.
Both Lombardi and Dr. Mougalian hope that the continuous funds raised by Infinite Strength will help to alleviate some of the hardships associated with a breast cancer diagnosis and the treatments that follow. For a majority of patients, striving to maintain a sense of normalcy is important and the nonprofit offers the opportunity to fill in the financially-draining gaps.
With strong support from those around her, Lombardi said that founding Infinite Strength and its sister company, Infinite Beauty, have given her a new purpose in life. And while her own physical battle with cancer may be over, the experience will be with her forever. “Cancer changes you and it teaches you a lot. It gave me the gift of a great appreciation for life and the freedom not to sweat the small things. I am so lucky in so many ways, and I just want to give back” she said.