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Mother and Daughter Share Breast Cancer Survival Stories
Shortly after her 32nd birthday, Michele discovered a lump on her breast. She immediately called her doctor. Following a series of diagnostic tests and a needle biopsy, she received the phone call that would change her life forever.
“Like many women in their early 30s, I thought I was invincible,” says Michele. “Then in 2000, that theory was blown out of the water – I had breast cancer.”
“I have never been so traumatized where I couldn’t speak, couldn’t think, and just couldn’t function,” Michele says. “Without hesitation, my amazing family rallied around me from that day forward and offered me tremendous support throughout my treatment.”
Following her diagnosis, Michele began chemotherapy treatment once a week every three weeks to shrink the size of the tumor before undergoing surgery. Once the tumor size had reduced, Michele underwent a lumpectomy and the removal of lymph nodes at Memorial Regional Hospital. After surgery, Michele had four more chemotherapy treatments, followed by five weeks of radiation therapy.
“I truly believe I owe my recovery to Memorial’s amazing team of doctors and nurses, along with the unbelievable support of my family and friends,” says Michele. “Memorial became my second home. Little did I know, our family would have to go through it all again.”
In early 2009, Michele’s mother, Sandy, discovered a lump during a self-exam and immediately made an appointment for a mammogram. Sandy was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, often a more aggressive form of cancer. Women who have this lack three hormone receptors known to fuel most breast cancer tumors: estrogen, progesterone and HER2.
Turning to ‘Family’
“There was no question where I would go for treatment,” says Sandy. “The doctors, nurses and staff at Memorial were family to us. They had saved Michele and I knew that I would receive the same level of support and high quality of care.” To expedite treatment planning, the multidisciplinary breast cancer team at Memorial Breast Cancer Center at Memorial Cancer Institute communicated continually to evaluate Sandy’s case as they do all newly diagnosed and relapsed cases to determine the individual’s optimal clinical approach.
“In the case of Michele and Sandy, it was just an unfortunate coincidence that both mother and daughter had breast cancer since both Michele and her father tested positive for the breast cancer gene BRCA2 and Sandy did not,” says Phyllis Neimark, MD, breast surgical oncologist on the medical staff at Memorial Regional Hospital and Memorial Regional Hospital South. “Fortunately, Memorial Breast Cancer Center offers a comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach and we quickly orchestrated a plan of action involving the surgical team, radiology and medical team that offered Sandy a high chance of success.”
Just as Sandy had painstakingly watched her daughter go through surgery and treatment less than nine years before, now the tables were turned. It was time for Michele to stand beside her mother as she faced four cycles of chemotherapy given every three weeks, followed by another 12 weekly doses of chemotherapy. Once she completed chemotherapy, Sandy underwent a lumpectomy, then eight weeks of radiation therapy.
“Michele says she got it first so she could help me,” says Sandy. “I was terribly sick and experienced vomiting and hair loss. As difficult as it was, it was nothing compared to watching my daughter go through it.”
“My mother’s diagnosis shook me to my core,” says Michele. “Mentally it was easier for me to deal with my own cancer than it was for me to deal with hers. Fortunately, today my mom is also cancer-free and as beautiful, vibrant and healthy as ever.”
Shared Challenges and Joys
“Sharing this experience with my daughter really strengthened our bond,” says Sandy. “And now Michele has become a mother. She adopted a baby boy and we are experiencing all the joy that new life brings to a family.”
Both in remission, Michele and Sandy return annually to Memorial for mammograms and breast imaging.
“By conducting breast self-exams and seeking immediate diagnosis and treatment, these women saved their own lives,” says Mary K. Hayes, MD Medical Director, Women's Imaging, Memorial Healthcare System. “Their experiences are testaments to the importance of self-exams, early screening and aggressive treatment. In addition, this mother and daughter showed each other tremendous support and embraced the goal of becoming ‘survivors.’”
As breast cancer survivors, Michele and Sandy make it their mission to educate women and men on the importance of breast cancer awareness.
“More than 40,000 lives will be lost this year to breast cancer,” says Michele. “No matter your age, I urge you to be aware of your body. Do self-exams and go for your mammograms. It’s all about early detection and treatment – that’s why my mother and I are here today.”
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