Sanela Mandzukic portrait

This Time Around
Story 14

In her mid-30s, Sanela Mandzukic was raising two young kids and pursuing a career in clinical microbiology when she was diagnosed with breast cancer by accident.

“My physician had recommended a baseline mammogram,” Sanela shares. “I had the mammogram done, and within a little over 20 minutes, I was called by my physician.”

The mammogram had revealed a cancerous mass. With no family history or other predisposing factors that she knew of, Sanela was in shock. “It was determined by the size and the kind that I had that I’d probably been living with cancer for the last year or two,” she recalls.

IV pole with medication

Almost immediately, Sanela began treatment. This involved a grueling year and a half of one regimen after another: Two months of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, followed by nearly a month of radiation.

For the next year, she received a targeted immunotherapy called monoclonal antibodies. Although her cancer was stage II, it was a particularly aggressive form. “Pretty much from beginning to end, it took 18 months of continuous work – non-stop work,” Sanela says.

“It was determined by the size and the kind that I had, that I’d probably been living with cancer for the last year or two."

That wasn’t the end of Sanela’s cancer battle. Next, she faced five years of the hormone therapy tamoxifen, which brought hard-hitting side effects.

“That whole time I was on it, I never felt like myself,” Sanela says. “When I got off that pill, I was already 40, and I think that point my life started going back to some type of normal.”

Sanela and her family

Sanela’s kids are teenagers now – and being their mom is a wish come true, she says – one that emerged during the tougher days of cancer treatment.

“When it was really, really bad, I remember thinking, ‘Everybody complains about teenagers being a pain in the butt, but you know what, I want to see that!’” she recalls with a laugh. “And I fought really hard for that.”

Now, Sanela is savoring the moments with her family more than ever before – disagreements and all.

“I take this as a second chance,” she says. “I fought for it together with God and my family, and I’m going to enjoy it as much as I can this time around.”