In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we asked Greenwich Mom Nina Lindia to share her story. Mom to two children (11 and 8), she is a breast cancer survivor and advocate, as well as President and Co-founder of Pitch Your Peers (PYP), a fantastic local philanthropic organization. We chatted with this resilient mom about her journey through breast cancer, advice she gives to newly diagnosed moms, and more.
Can you please tell us about your family?
I live in Old Greenwich with my husband, Fabio, and our two kids. Francesco (“Ciccio”, 11 years old) and Raffaella (“Raffi”, 8 years old) We have no pets, as we lost a Pumpkin Patch goldfish a few years back and have still not recovered, emotionally, ha!
Aww! Can you share a bit about your professional background?
By most accounts, I am a stay-at-home mother, but I have issues with that terminology. A great friend of mine, and founder of Inkwell.co, a leader in the Flex Work/Life space, Manon DeFelice told me a year ago to stop telling people I don’t work just because I don’t have a salary. “You work, Nina,” she said, and then it clicked. I DO WORK. I think of my “earnings” as the amount I can personally give away (what’s in our Family Giving Foundation) and the much larger amounts I can hopefully convince other people to give away. Pitch Your Peers as an organization, for example, has given away over $500,000, and we’re on track to get to $700,000 this year.
That’s an amazing accomplishment! Can you please describe your journey with breast cancer?
I was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer after a baseline mammogram when I was 35 (out of nowhere, no family history). No one felt a lump, but my incredible OB, Dr Cathy Berzolla, orders them at the age of 35 as a baseline. Thank God for Cathy, and for my overall compliant attitude towards medicine. I didn’t wait, I did what my doctor told me to do and FAST, and it saved my life…cancer was already in 4 of my lymph nodes. I had a double mastectomy, 4 months of chemotherapy, 25 rounds of radiation and 3 reconstructive surgeries. I was treated by the incomparable Dr Chau Dang, Chief of Breast Oncology at MSKCC (Harrison, NY). Dr Alexandra Heerdt (a Greenwich Mom herself!) was my Breast Surgeon, and Dr Joseph Disa (a Greenwich Dad!) was my absolute ninja of a Plastic Surgeon. I feel confident in my prognosis because of Dr Dang and Heerdt, but I look great thanks to Dr Disa, and believe me it all matters. Feeling confident after one’s body goes through something like that is absolutely medically relevant, and a huge part of my survivorship.
You were diagnosed just as you were launching Pitch Your Peers. How did your diagnosis push you to get PYP up and running? The picture (above) of our team is from March 4th, 2015, taken at my favorite restaurant, Le Fat Poodle in OG. We had just signed our Certificate of Incorporation for our 501c3 IRS application. I had long blonde hair and no idea I had breast cancer, or that it was already in a lymph node as far down as my bicep (Dr Heerdt was very pleased to have “dug that sucker out” during my mastectomy). Here’s what I did know: these 3 women that co-founded PYP with me do not make wrong calls, and did not have time to waste on anything they weren’t passionate about. I thought maybe one of them would agree to work on this project together, but it was all 3. And, here’s what I’ll personally never forget: even when running PYP is hard, even when we lose a member to other commitments or (much more often these days, moves out of town), I always come back to this: these three said YES, and they said it before I got sick.
Have you used PYP to raise funds and awareness surrounding breast cancer?
One of the, if not THE, reason I have been able to be positive about this scary diagnosis at a young age is because of one person: Hillary Corbin. I met Hillary on her last day of chemotherapy for HER2+ breast cancer (a different oncotype than mine, the other most frequent oncotypes are ER+, PR+ and DCIS.) She had undergone a double mastectomy with tissue expanders (and was back at Soul Cycle 5 weeks post op!) 16 rounds of chemotherapy (she looked the picture of health!) and as it turns out was getting her reconstructive surgery done the day after my mastectomy in the same hospital! We joked about high-fiving in the hallways and how her surgery was on “Cinco-de-Boob-o.” 🙂 Joking aside though, what she really did was show me what was possible with a positive attitude and treating the machine that is our bodies as it deserves to be treated (more on this with question below.) Before I met Hillary, I was certain I’d be gray, a bald shadow-person with Frankenstein parts, that I’d never feel beautiful let alone be thought of as beautiful again. Hillary changed all that when she opened her front door and hugged me hello.
All this is to say, she became a dear friend to me, and we are both involved in fundraising together in the breast cancer space. Our very first successful project was becoming PYP Grant Champions for Breast Cancer Alliance, and Pitching to the PYP Greenwich Membership in 2018. We won the First Prize Grant of $45,000 (!!!) and we secured a matching gift from a BCA Board Member. With our $75,000 grant to BCA, we were able to fund a full Breast Oncology Fellow, Dr Elizabeth Berger, as the “Pitch Your Peers Breast Oncology Fellow.” Now, it should also be said that as President and Co-founder of PYP, I am equally proud of ALL our grants to date, and they can be found here (hyperlink to: pitchyourpeers.org)
How are you involved with BCA?
I love Breast Cancer Alliance. The BCA Annual Luncheon and Fashion Show is celebrating its 25th Anniversary on Wednesday October 20th. Tickets for the in-person luncheon might already be sold out, but there is a virtual option. Go here for more info (hyperlink to: breastcanceralliance.org) The first time I attended the luncheon was in 2015. I was in a wig and definitely struggled to keep it together. The next year, I made the difficult decision to attend again, but only stayed for an hour. Triple Negative Breast Cancer tends to come back in the first 2 or 3 years after diagnosis, and in a lethal fashion. Then the threat of recurrence drops precipitously, but never goes away completely. So, it wasn’t really until 2018 that I exhaled…a little bit. Enough to walk in the Fashion Show that year in black leather, while DJ April Larken spun “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons. The next year, I felt brave enough to co-chair, and asked my friends Dr Amy Kappelman-Johnson and Lauren Schweibold, both touched by breast cancer but not personally diagnosed, to co-chair with me. That year, we broke a record: $1.6million raised, and this is at a luncheon. 1100 people in the tent at the Hyatt, the largest event in Greenwich and then…Covid hit. I was honored to be asked to join the BCA Board in 2020, and I have loved every minute of being a new Board member. The Executive Director, Yonni Wattenmaker, and the women on this Board, especially the leadership, are incredible and supportive. We are all laser focused on increasing the amounts we can grant to Young Investigators, Breast Surgical Oncology Fellows (the kind you’d want operating on YOUR loved ones), Exceptional Projects and Education and Outreach.
What would you tell any moms who are recently diagnosed?
At first, I didn’t feel anything but scared for myself and sorry for myself, until the date of my mastectomy, the first of my many surgeries on May 4th, 2015. This is a day I will never forget because this is the day I stopped feeling anything but grateful for my breast cancer diagnosis. Let me explain…that is also the day that a pediatric oncology patient was wheeled by me on his way to another Operating Room. He was asleep, but I know his mother wasn’t; she probably hadn’t slept for months. But I could sleep, because with a husband that was a pillar of support, my extended family, what felt like the whole town of Old Greenwich behind us, I could focus on ME. This wasn’t happening to my children, this was happening to me, and I could take it. Hillary showed me I could. It is a privilege to only endure only one’s own pain as a mother. It is what we all would choose: to take the pain and fear of our children and make it our own, but of course we don’t get to choose whose health is compromised. So, if you’re a mother and you are scared after a diagnosis, I get it, but you can do this. You might be scared you won’t get to see your children grow up, and I’ve been there, too. But you can also make active choices not to wallow, but instead to worship at the altar of your own body. Eating plant-based is a big one for me, along with intermittent fasting and twice weekly sessions at Core Pilates Greenwich and with Matt McMahon at Innis Arden. My favorite books to recommend to the newly diagnosed are “How Not to Die” (by Dr Michael Greger, founder of non-profit food-science website, nutritionfacts.org), “Proteinaholic” by Dr Garth Davis, and “Homo Deus” by Yuval Noah Harari.