Survivor since 1995…

In July 1995, I had just turned 38 years old, was married with a seven year old son, and had NO family history of breast cancer. My experience as a medical technologist, prior [unrelated but also misdiagnosed] health concerns, and a natural boldness led me to take aggressive action when I felt a lump in my left breast (near the sternum) six weeks prior. Though I was assured by doctors “it was nothing,” I INSISTED on a biopsy on this lump which did NOT show up on mammogram, NOR on ultrasound. I also insisted on receiving only local anesthetic during the needle biopsy, to be sure of guiding the surgeon to the correct spot (which was painful). Even during the procedure he turned to the intern and said, “it’s nothing, just as we suspected.” Oh, how I wish that were true; instead, days later, I received the diagnosis of Stage 2 Breast Cancer.

Never wanting to look back and wonder “what if,” I followed, without hesitation, a pattern of pursuing the most aggressive course of treatment possible. When asked “lumpectomy or mastectomy” my answer was definitive: mastectomy! Chemotherapy or no chemotherapy? Chemotherapy! Tamoxifen or no Tamoxifen (studies of its effectiveness in premenopausal women were not yet completed). Yes, Tamoxifen! Following the initial surgeries and treatment, as well as five years of Tamoxifen, hormonal changes could be seen on mammograms of my remaining breast. That was, to me, a ticking time bomb. So I  found an oncologist who agreed with and supported my decision to have a complete hysterectomy (2002) and second (prophylactic)mastectomy (2005).

Sadly, that “no family history” of breast cancer was wiped away rather rudely. My dear cousin had also been told that she had “nothing to worry about” but then received a diagnosis of breast cancer two months following mine; she died in 2001. I also had “no family history” of ovarian cancer, but less than six months after my hysterectomy, my mother was diagnosed with it, and died just three months later (2003). Since then my older sister has been diagnosed with uterine cancer, and my aunt with breast cancer; thankfully, they are both doing well! Genetic testing does not indicate involvement of the BRCA1/BRCA2 genes, but perhaps some future genetic or environmental studies will provide insight. Meanwhile, I am feeling healthy & strong more than 14 years following my diagnosis, and am enjoying hiking, biking and skiing as much as time allows. I praise God for this, and just pray that I can continue to live a life that glorifies Him.


  1. Deborah Belonick says:

    Mary’s unusual story has kept me vigilent about my own health. Now, I never let a pain or swelling or symptom go unheeded; I aggressively search for its cause. The willingness of my physicians’ to accommodate me in these (so-far) goose chases for malevolent diseases are due to the simple fact that I tell them Mary’s story, and remind them that Mary is my “baby sister.” When they hear of her misdiagnoses and dismissive experiences, they are more than willing to locate the causes of my seemingly insignificant aches and pains. She did the hard work, and suffered the devastation of cancer, and I’m the beneficiary of her painful struggle. I am grateful daily not to have lost her during her trial with cancer, and grateful that her positive, upbeat outlook continues to lighten my path and keep me smiling. Thank you for featuring my wonderful, compassionate sister on your site.–Deborah

  2. tami candella says:

    Mary’s story does so much more than put a face on the human struggle with devastating disease.
    It teaches us that we, alone, are responsible for our health and empowers us to take charge
    of what life may put before us. And lastly, how on many different levels, our future holds promise for fulfillment depending on the choices we make now. She shows us how to walk the walk… and inspires us to look for God’s hand along the way.

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