Oct 30, 2015 10:00 AM

Author: Cancer Learning Center

Mary Chamberlain had completed treatment for one type of cancer, melanoma, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She talks about her journey with both cancers, including how she got through chemotherapy when she thought her body couldn’t take it anymore.

You were diagnosed with breast cancer and melanoma. Which came first?

Melanoma. I was 33. My nephew, who was 2 years old at the time, kept pointing to a mole on my thigh and saying “Ouchie!” So it was really on my mind. Every time he saw me he’d point it out. I went in for my annual checkup and my doctor said, “You’re not leaving here until I biopsy that.” I’m very grateful he was so proactive. They scheduled surgery a month later.

Talk about your treatment for melanoma.

I had no idea melanoma was dangerous until the doctor gave me a mortality rate. I said, “Wait, what do you mean my mortality rate is 75%?”

I had studied the Mohs surgical technique and thought that’s what they were going to do. The day of my surgery, the doctor started drawing giant purple footballs on my thigh. I said, “What is that for?” He told me that this was all they had to take because of the margins of the cancer. I was completely unprepared. I thought they were going to remove a little bit of skin. I was laid up for weeks and weeks. It was shocking, but my doctor, Michael Hadley, took such good care of me. I felt that he was very genuine. That was my first experience at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

Was there a big emotional change for you after your surgery?

There was because I had always taken care of myself and always did my best to be a healthy, active person. I was really surprised that I ended up with cancer. We didn’t have a family history and I didn’t spend an excessive amount of time in the sun. It made me realize none of us are immune to any kind of disease. It can happen in a moment and your life can be changed.

When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?

I was diagnosed when I was 36, so I had a three year break from one cancer to the next. That was January of this year when I got my diagnosis. It started out as a very small, little lump. I wasn’t concerned and I don’t have a history of breast cancer in my family. I never in a million years would’ve thought that’s what it was. As soon as it started to change, I knew I needed to get it checked. I was very lucky that I saw it and was able to catch it early.

What treatments have you received for breast cancer?

First, my oncologist had informed me that chemotherapy could also affect my fertility. So I actually got lined up with a fertility center and did two rounds of fertility cycles. I was very blessed to get lined up with Live Strong, which is for young women facing chemotherapy. They pay for a portion of your treatment and for your medicine, which is thousands of dollars. Very early on I was blessed with the charity of someone else to help me to preserve some options for fertility. Because my BRCA genetic test came back negative, I was able to get lumpectomies.

That was March 2015. In April I started chemotherapy and finished in June. I started radiation in July and finished in August. Now I am on my path to recovery.

Dr. Sandra Buys is my oncologist. I love her. She was so kind and considerate. Before every chemotherapy she gave me a hug. After my third chemotherapy, it was so hard that I decided I was going to quit. I felt like I was doing damage to my body that was at a point of being irreparable. I thought there was no possible way that I could do this again, I didn’t think my body could take anymore. So I called Dr. Buys. She said, “You know, I think one day chemotherapy is going to be a thing of the past, we’re just unfortunately not there yet. I really want to encourage you to get through the last one. You can get through it. Just one more.” She gave me the motivation and strength to continue.

When you hear the term “survivor” what do you think?

Well, I can see that there’s two sides of every argument. I think it’s tough because if you are a cancer patient, for myself I’ve had two different kinds of cancer, so I’ll always have that fear that it will come back and I’m not invincible. It can happen to anyone. When you’re in the middle of it, you talk about it every single day. It consumes you, your life, and your family. There comes a point when you just want to become yourself again and not be defined by cancer anymore. Once you get through cancer, you really hope you’ll never have to go through it again.

Cancer Learning Center

Huntsman Cancer Institute

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