The Fight of Her Life
It was at the Teamsters Convention in 2006 where Rosie DeMitro experienced the first symptoms of the difficult path her life would take. The sharp pains felt like a dagger repeatedly going through her chest, as she doubled over in pain in her Las Vegas hotel room. Rosie didn’t know what was wrong. But by the time she got back home to Toronto, she would find out.
“‘You have breast cancer’, the doctor told me. He wasn’t able to look me in the eye, but I told him, ‘It’s ok. I’m going to be fine’”, Rosie said. Her mother had died in 1990 from lung cancer, and it was on her mother’s birthday, July 26, 2006, that Rosie was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer.
Rosie had recently celebrated her 50th birthday. At her birthday party, a friend had given Rosie a “Rosie the Riveter” doll. Her namesake was tenacious and determined, always up to the challenge. Little did Rosie DeMitro know that, in the coming years, she would have to be just as strong.
In the months leading up to her diagnosis, Rosie found she tired frequently, and it was not the type of exhaustion that comes with the end of a long day. She would often feel completely wiped out during the work day. She thought at the time that it could have been a part of getting older, but she didn’t know for sure.
“I would never have thought it was breast cancer,” she said.
Rosie was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, also known as “the silent killer” because it hides behind the breast and does not become apparent until it is in the advanced stages, and in Rosie’s case, excruciatingly painful.
Representing the Women
Rosie began chemotherapy shortly after her diagnosis. However, she found it difficult to slow down an active pace of life, including full time work and participation in her union. She was a 24-year Teamster with Purolator Courier; an 11-year Local 938 shop steward; a facilitator for new recruits; and a union Trustee. She did everything. And as President of the Teamsters Ontario Women’s Caucus, Rosie couldn’t miss the 2006 Teamsters Women’s Conference.
“I told the doctor I had to go to Phoenix to represent my Canadian women. She told me I could go, but warned me I’d begin losing my hair there,” Rosie said. “And I did.”
Rosie endured 26 weeks of intense radiation to kill the cancer. But her spirit never died.
“You can’t give up or give into it. If you give into cancer, it will beat you, but you need to beat cancer. I had to stay positive and say to myself, ‘Tomorrow’s not here yet, think about today and be positive about it,” Rosie said.
Staying positive is a challenge that Rosie tackles head on every day. She is now on disability from work because of lymphedema, a painful swelling of her left arm and hand, caused by the removal of 10 cancerous lymph nodes from her arm. She used to lift 2,000 pounds a day on the job, a task too painful with lymphedema.
Now in full remission, Rosie directs her strength to bringing hope to others.
“I go to Gilda’s Club once a week and talk to the ladies battling cancer. It’s a really great place to go to speak with other women. There’s a lot of support,” she said.
Rosie would like to see all Teamsters from the International Union to rank-and-file support their brothers and sisters who are battling cancer and help out cancer foundations, which rely heavily on donations to do their good work.
She notes that the first five years are the most crucial years for cancer survivors. Beyond fighting a physical battle, cancer survivors also face a hefty financial toll. A thirty day supply of a one-a-day cancer pill called Femera costs a whopping $900 in Canada. Fortunately, there is universal health care, so Rosie is covered 100 percent by the Ontario government.
This October, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Teamsters in Canada took part in the Run for the Cure, a 5-K walk/run fundraiser for research, education and treatment of breast cancer. This was the first time in six years that Rosie had to miss the walk.
Rosie still has to take six pills a day and constantly monitor her health, going to the doctor on a regular basis.
“Don’t ever push your body when it’s telling you something. Rest when you need to. Try to stay away from people with colds. Your immune system is so down that anything in the environment will hit you much harder than any other person,” she said.
When people ask Rosie how she’s doing these days she replies, “I’m still here.” She urges others to get mammograms for early detection, and advises those battling cancer to remain vigilant with their health and always have a positive outlook on life.
“When it comes to your hopes, my best advice is live for today and appreciate everything,” Rosie said. “Really, sincerely, stop and smell the roses.”