A Cedar Crest graduate details her decade-long fight with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer in a new, soul-baring book.
Viki Zarkin shares her story in the 152-page hardcover book and e-book “I Am the One,” released earlier this month. A softcover edition and audiobook will be available in about six months.
“The book was ready to be released in July or August, but it was important to me that we wait to release it in October since it’s breast cancer awareness month,” Zarkin said.
“This is not your typical cancer story: this is Viki’s story,” the overview of the book on the Barnes & Noble website says, “And you are going to learn rather quickly that Viki takes no prisoners when she has something to say.”
Zarkin, who holds a bachelor of science degree in communications and broadcast journalism from Ithaca College, managed the corporate video production division for Cable Adnet when she met her husband, Jere Zarkin. After they married in 1992, she began working with him at his dental practice, running the front office.
In 1999, they had their first child, Dell Isaac Zarkin, and three years later their daughter, Isabella Jolie Zarkin, was born.
Viki Zarkin was diagnosed with cancer on Jan. 5, 2011; she was 44 years old and had two small children at home. She explained that, prior to the official diagnosis, she traveled back and forth to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for six months for what she described as grueling tests.
“I had all these tests, but hadn’t seen an oncologist,” she recalled. “I kept asking to see an oncologist. Finally I did see him. He was talking, but he didn’t even make eye contact with me. He basically told me to go home and get my affairs in order.
“I zoned out. When he stopped talking, it took me a few moments to process, and then I snapped. He told me I had stage 4 metastatic cancer and that I should go home and get my affairs in order. How dare he make decisions for me and about my body without even consulting me.”
She said she knew she had to do her own research and come up with her own plan. She also had to learn to navigate the health-care world.
“I was in ‘fight mode’ from the get go. I knew one thing — nobody else was going to raise those children but me,” she stressed. “My family, including my extended family, is my heart and soul. I don’t just say I’m the luckiest girl, I just happen to have cancer. I mean it. I truly am fortunate and it’s because of the love of my family.”
She said for some time, she was in “tunnel vision mode,” her focus on fighting cancer.
“When I came out of that mode, I knew I wanted to tell my story,” Zarkin said. “I’m still surviving cancer. I have chemo on a monthly basis to keep me alive. I’ll have treatments the rest of my life.”
She said she had a great support group — people who were there when she needed them.
“For about a year, people fed my family. They would put together meals we could heat up and leave them in coolers outside our front door,” Zarkin explained.
“During that time, my son was to have his bar mitzvah. I knew I should send invitations and organize a party, but I couldn’t do it. Luckily, friends and family stepped in and took care of it.”
She said one of the first things she did after emerging from her tunnel vision phase was to throw a part for her support group.
“I wanted to thank them. I hadn’t expressed my appreciation for their efforts when I was in tunnel vision mode,” she explained.
“I had made a promise to God that if I could raise my children, I would help other women. Raising my children was the greatest gift I’ve ever been given,” she added.
For Zarkin, writing the book and doing speaking engagements are one way of fulfilling that promise, and as a broadcast journalist, speaking and writing are her forte.
“As I was writing the book, I walked in my loved ones’ footsteps — that was very difficult since they felt helpless,” she said.
She said her mom was not only part of her support system, but she read drafts of the book numerous times before it was published.
“She is my rock; she inspires me,” Zarkin said.
“Sharing my story is a way to educate women to advocate for themselves and their health. I can’t be the only one left standing — I want more women to survive this terrible disease,” she said. “I want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other women who are surviving stage 4 breast cancer. I want them to be able to tuck their children in bed at night the way I got to tuck my children in bed.”
But her story is not limited to cancer. She also touches on doctor-patient relationships, nutrition, appreciating the “little things in life” and helping women to follow their instincts regarding their own healthcare.
Zarkin is also developing a course and seminar for women to share the knowledge she’s gained along the way about areas such as how to talk with their children about a cancer diagnosis and treatments, navigating the healthcare system and being their own advocate.
“The idea is to provide women with as much information as possible beforehand so they can go into treatment and be positive, to concentrate on getting well,” she said.
Zarkin said there are several “take-aways” from her story: Never give up. There’s always hope. Don’t sweat the small things. Choose what’s important to you. Live with grace.
For more information about Zarkin, upcoming speaking engagements and her book, visit her website.
Breast Cancer Awareness
Women should get screened for breast cancer. It’s the second most common cancer in women and is the second leading cause of cancer death in women.
According to information provided by the Lebanon VA Medical Center, localized breast cancer has a 99% survival rate if detected early. Breast care resources available for veterans through VA include screening and diagnostic mammograms, breast ultrasound and MRI, genetic counseling and testing, cancer treatment and more.
The VA and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommend regular breast cancer screening for women who are 45 years of age and older, though some women may choose to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40. Women should talk with their primary-care provider team about what is best for them and schedule their mammogram.
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