“You have cancer, my dear.”

Not the words that I expected to hear on the phone right before I went into the dentist’s office for my six-month check-up. As I lay back in that dentist chair, five minutes after I received that call, many things went through my mind, and I tried to remember the rest of the results I had just received about my recent breast biopsy. She said the cancer was slow growing, or the “good kind of cancer,” as they called it. How could this be? I had no lump in my breast. There was no history of breast cancer in my family, and it was just a regular screening mammogram appointment. But, as I lay there, I couldn’t stop my mind from going where all cancer patients go to at some point during their diagnosis—to the place where you think about leaving behind those that you love.

As I drove home after the appointment, the tears came. I thought about how I would tell my girls the news. They were 19, 18 and 13. How would I tell my husband and my mom and siblings in Ireland? How could this be happening again to our family?

You see, I had received a diagnosis of cancer 25 years earlier, when I was a 13-year-old teenager. At that time, it was an ovarian cancer diagnosis. A tumor the size of a soccer ball was found and removed from my body after a random accident. Several months of inpatient chemotherapy, hair loss and uncontrollable nausea followed. This was cancer care in 1986 and I was lucky. Early detection from that accident had likely saved my life. But, seven years later, my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer that had progressed to his aorta. There was no early detection test available for his cancer. Treatment wasn’t an option and six months later, we lost him. He was 49 years old with three kids: myself, then just 20 years old, and my siblings, only 15 and 12.

And now, at the age of 48, almost the same age as my dad was when he died, I was here again. This time, with a cancer diagnosis of invasive mammary carcinoma, a diagnosis that was very different than his, a diagnosis that identified the cancer as curable and that could be treated with lumpectomy, radiation and a cancer drug called Tamoxifen that I would take for the next 5 years. Again, I was one of the “lucky” ones where early detection would help save my life for the second time. And, as I entered New England Cancer Specialists (NECS) on October 1 last year, I walked through those doors not as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the practice, but as a breast cancer patient.

When I joined NECS as the practice’s COO in 2018, I felt like I had found my home. It was a place where I could use my experience in healthcare to help make a difference in other cancer patients’ lives. To me, there is no higher calling. And it had always amazed me how many of our staff had come to work for NECS because we had treated some of their family members or friends. To choose to work in a practice where you have seen your loved ones cared for says a lot about the place itself.

Now, I would experience that tight bond as a patient and staff member at NECS, through the support of many physicians who helped guide me in the treatment decisions I needed to make and the breast cancer survivors on our staff who had walked their cancer journey before me and who would support me as I continued my treatment.

And so, with all these experiences, past and current, I looked for ways I could make a difference for others. For me, that has included being available to listen or talk with others newly diagnosed with breast cancer, like my family at NECS did with me, speaking at my kids’ field hockey games during the month of October to raise awareness of the importance of screening mammograms and sharing my story with each of you now.

So, as a breast cancer survivor and as someone who works in a cancer practice, I implore each and every one of you: if you are in your 40s or older or have a family history of breast cancer, please make that call and schedule your mammogram. A mammogram is quick, it’s simple, it’s covered by insurance, and it works. It could help save your life, just like I believe it may have saved mine.


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