MACOMB COUNTY — Erika Lojko has had her share of ups and downs in recent years, but there has always been one thing that kept her going: her son, Caleb.
Caleb was just 4 when, in 2015, Lojko found a lump while shaving in the shower.
She immediately scheduled an appointment to see her primary care doctor, who in turn referred her to a cancer specialist for a mammogram and CAT scan. Both tests came back negative.
However, the final test, a biopsy, showed that Lojko, 35, had stage 3 triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease that disproportionately affects African-American women and young patients.
Still mourning the loss of her husband, David, from a motorcycle accident the year prior, Lojko said she was terrified by the diagnosis. She said there is no history of breast cancer in her family, though an older brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, also at the age of 35.
“I was completely shocked,” said Lojko, a resident of Almont, who works full time as a public health educator for the Macomb County Health Department.
Three tough years after her diagnosis, Lojko’s cancer is in remission and she enjoys spending quality time with her now 7-year-old son, as well as inspiring others who are battling cancer.
“Being a three-year survivor is bittersweet since I am thankful for being here, but also I grieve for the other cancer warriors that have lost their ultimate life battle,” she said.
She persevered through many months of intensive treatment that included 12 biopsies, multiple surgeries, intravenous and oral chemotherapies, and radiation therapy. Despite losing her hair, her appetite, her confidence, her endurance and her ability to bounce back from the common cold, Lojko continued to work, care for her son and keep her house in order.
Today, Lojko serves as a fierce patient advocate for cancer prevention and survivorship. She provides feedback regarding programs and services for breast cancer patients to the health care team at Henry Ford Hospital. She’s an active member of the Colorectal Cancer Awareness Network, or CRAN, of Southeastern Michigan and chairs the CRAN Screening Initiatives subcommittee, working to find innovative ways to build screening partnerships.
Lojko said she loves to inspire others through telling her story of survival.
“The outreach with Henry Ford gives my story a voice, and I believe (it) empowers other young cancer patients (to see) that life is not over upon diagnosis,” she said. “I want to illustrate that you can not only survive this cruel disease, but you can thrive.”
In addition, Lojko actively seeks opportunities to educate the community and is frequently requested to speak at events.
She has been invited to tell her survivor story at the American Cancer Society’s annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event in Macomb County, and in late November, the Michigan Cancer Consortium hosted its annual meeting, where it celebrated its 20th anniversary. During the celebration, several individuals and organizations, including Lojko, were given the Inspiration Award for their support and inspiration of those fighting cancer, said Lynn Sutfin, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
According to Sutfin, the Michigan Cancer Consortium is a statewide partnership of more than 100 organizations representing community-based health care; health care insurance plans; health education, research and evaluation; public health organizations; university-based health care; trade, professional and advocacy organizations; and organizations representing hard-to-reach and special populations.
“Being a single working widowed mama is not easy with an over one-hour commute each way to work with limited funds for fun stuff on the weekends,” Lojko said. “I’m so grateful Caleb’s understanding of Mom doing her best. Today, and especially during the holidays, his smile and joy is all that I need. We have certainly been through hell over the past four years, but I am confident that good things will come our way.
“Caleb keeps me focused and moving.”
For more on Lojko’s story with Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/services/breast-cancer/stories/erika.