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I’m a Survivor: Living Through a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Our Covey community shares their personal triumphs and tribulations during Breast Cancer Awareness month

By Team Covey

In honor of this year’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, we wanted to get real. Really real. We wanted to hear real stories from real women who know what it’s really like to deal with the anger, the anguish, and the anxiety of hearing those three enormously weighted words: You have cancer.

Here, we pulled together the words from those in our Covey community willing to share about the  triumphs and tribulations that go along with their encounters with breast cancer. Our readers shared with us their fears about their fight, and their courage fighting for their survival, in these inspirational breast cancer stories. And through it all, they managed to come out of their experiences with a sense of rebirth — a reinvention of sorts. If any of you aren’t sure which stepping stone to jump to next, these remarkable women might just show you the way.

Monique de la Cour, diagnosed at 58
I was diagnosed with and treated for DCIS [ductal carcinoma in situ] during the spring of 2022. As a health coach and personal trainer with no family history of breast cancer, I was completely stunned. At the time, I was going through a difficult divorce, and my oncologist told me that it is common for women to receive a breast cancer diagnosis during periods of great stress. I was told that I was lucky because it was only DCIS and my prognosis was excellent. A lumpectomy and radiation took place in the summer of 2022 and I was told that I had a 3% chance of lifetime recurrence. Both treatments were very tolerable to me, yet it was still a relief when it was over and I was ready to move on with life.

Six months later, during the next routine mammogram/ultrasound, a suspicious area was discovered — again! A biopsy indicated DCIS — again. This was a bigger shock than the first one. How could this happen twice in one year with a 3% lifetime chance of recurrence? I sought out a second opinion and it was confirmed that a mastectomy was the course of treatment, and I started preparing for the surgery. In preparation for the procedure, the breast surgeon had my images re-reviewed, and her pathologist was not sure if the biopsy diagnosis was correct.

Between January and May of 2023, three different hospital pathology departments, a tumor panel at a breast cancer conference, and one world-renowned expert studied my breast tissue. Three different opinions came down from all these professionals, but in the end, the recommendation was to do another lumpectomy, which took place in July 2023. Three weeks after the surgery, it was determined that my cells had changed due to radiation and were not malignant. I am grateful for my medical team’s diligence and dedication to my well-being. Especially my surgeon, who went above and beyond to save me from unnecessary surgery. 

I realize that I’m privileged to have excellent health insurance and I wish that every patient could have the same experience that I had. I knew all along that I was lucky that DCIS would not kill me, which made it easier to share my status with my family and friends. I don’t see myself as a survivor, because this was physically not hard for me. Nevertheless, as a health and wellness professional whose identity is closely tied to a healthy lifestyle, it was a big blow psychologically. 

Other than some colds here and there, I’ve never been sick. Yet, I took my good health for granted and the cancer diagnosis has exposed my fragility. I’m much more aware of my own mortality and the importance of enjoying my family and friends and the many experiences that make life worth living during the short time we have.

Mary Ann Higgs, never diagnosed
A good friend was diagnosed with breast cancer and after understanding the particulars of her treatment and prognosis, I made an agreement with her that I would be happy to listen if she wanted to talk. And, of course, I would be happy to help in any way I could. We also agreed that our time together would be as it always was and not revolve around her illness. It was very clear to me that being “normal” was important. So, when we went for coffee or lunch or hung out at home, we talked about work, kids, what we were watching on TV, husbands, etc. All the stuff we had always talked about. We shared hair and makeup tips. Teased each other about things. My friend shared with me how important it was for her to be seen as a person, not as a disease.

This friend was diagnosed with breast cancer four times. She beat it three times! We lost her in early August 2023. One of the things I always admired about her is that she continued to live her life throughout treatment. While she fought with everything she had, she continued to live a full life with each diagnosis and throughout treatment. And part of that was having a support system that engaged with her the way they always had and didn’t let her become a disease first. I’m happy I was able to provide her distraction, laughter, and normalcy at a time of great change and uncertainty. 

Lisa Ryan, diagnosed at 56
Through a routine mammogram screening, a mass was detected. I was almost two years behind in routine screening. My initial reaction was shock. I had several suspicious lumps in the past that all were benign, so I assumed this latest one was benign. I do not fit into any of the risk categories… I do not drink alcohol, I do not smoke, I am not overweight, I have no family history, I exercise every day. I learned so much going through treatment — from what are the most important parts of my life to what not to say to someone going through cancer treatment and how kind and compassionate people can be.

Diagnosed with breast cancer this year? Here are some words of wisdom:
“Ask a lot of questions, at every stage of treatment, ask for alternatives, ask what they would do if it was them or a loved one. Reach out to friends and family, you’ll be surprised how many women have already been through this.” –Tina Carusillo, diagnosed at age 61 

“Make sustainable lifestyle choices that support your emotional and physical health while going through this process. Try to keep your body moving, even if it is a short walk or gentle stretching. This will help you clear your mind and give you a sense of control. Surround yourself with people who lift you up. Seek out the support from trusted family and friends as well as professionals and women who have received the same diagnosis as you. The breast cancer ‘sisterhood’ is huge and I’ve learned that all the women who have gone there before you are willing to support you now. Knowing that you are not alone is invaluable.” –Monique de la Cour

“Take a deep breath, take one step at a time, and as Nicky Newman said: ‘Go Grab Life!’” –Lisa Ryan

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