On April 29, 2012, my dear friend Meghan Malley stood on the steps of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing as the "Honorary Survivor" for Susan G. Komen's Race for the Cure. As Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, I felt compelled to share her speech with you.
On March 21st of last year, I turned 29 years old and celebrated with my loving husband Mike, and my wonderful family and friends. I was the happiest I had ever been in my life. Mike and I were blessed with rewarding careers, a beautiful home, and we were excited to be trying to start a family of our own.
The details of how I ended up being diagnosed and finding myself standing on these steps before you, are complex and occurred over a period of several years. The bottom line is that despite my best efforts, my concerns regarding my health were very likely underestimated and under appreciated by the medical community because I didn’t fit the typical role of a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. When I first felt a lump in my breast I was 21 years old. It ended up being benign and was surgically removed but a few years later I started developing pain and thickened tissue in the same breast. I have a significant family history of cancer and yet I was told I was too young to get a mammogram – I was told pain is not indicative of cancer – and after an abnormal ultrasound and subsequent mammogram, I was told that I simply had dense breasts like millions of other women. The following year, after initiating hormonal treatments in order to get pregnant, I had a follow up ultrasound, which looked vastly different than the year before.
So, the day after my birthday last year, I had ended up having a biopsy completed and the following day while at work, I received that dreaded phone call and heard the words, “Meghan, it’s breast cancer.” And as many of you know from your own experience, since that call, my world has never been the same. The following weeks were a whirlwind of appointments, phone calls, blood draws and every diagnostic test under the sun. After a few inconclusive tests and an eventual biopsy of my 12th thoracic vertebra, we discovered that my breast cancer had spread to my spine – thus, classifying me as Stage IV, also known as Metastatic Breast Cancer. What is always the worst nightmare for anyone diagnosed with cancer, was now my reality.
How could this be possible? I felt fine – I had always been so healthy and took great care of myself. My world and my family’s world were quickly turned upside down as we attempted to formulate the best medical team, and devise an appropriate treatment plan.
I completed 15 rounds of chemotherapy followed by a double mastectomy and 28 rounds of radiation. I also started receiving a monthly injection to shut down my ovaries as well as one to help strengthen my bones. I now take an oral medication every day, as well as a slew of other vitamins and supplements.
With all of that said, the physical pain and discomfort associated with what I have endured in the past year pales in comparison to the emotional and psychological battle that this disease brings. While I am an optimistic and positive person by nature, when you are told that there is no cure for the disease you are facing, and you learn of the staggering statistics that supposedly dictate your life expectancy – it can be very difficult to remain hopeful.
But thankfully, I have never lost hope. I have to give a lot of the credit to the amazing members of Team Meghan Malley Rally – my incredible network of family and friends that have supported me each and every step of the way – any of which are here today. They have provided Mike and I support in every sense of the word – and in addition to helping us directly, our friends have raised over $35,000 for Susan G. Komen For the Cure through various events such as the Race for the Cure, Ride for the Cure and the 3 Day for the Cure.
I come out to these events not only because my friends and family want to participate in them as a way to help support me, but more importantly, I attend these events in order to share my story with others – to put a face to this disease. To inform others that breast cancer often does affect young women such as myself, and that some of us are diagnosed with metastases right from the start. The stories of survivors are not always ones with the perfect happy ending where they stand up here and share that they have been cancer free for a number of years. There are over 155,000 of us in the United States living with metastatic breast cancer – living day in and day out dealing with this disease and working as hard as we can to be here to see the next day.
I am grateful for the work of the Susan G. Komen organization and all of the awareness that they have generated over the last 30 years. I am thankful for the programs they have initiated and the education that they have provided. But I now challenge all of us to work even harder. It is time to take the steps necessary to truly find a cure. Prevention and early detection are crucial and are obviously very important – but for many of us, we weren’t lucky enough to be diagnosed at an early stage. For the thousands of women living with stage IV disease – prevention and early detection efforts will not help us live one extra day. If I want to live to see my 35th birthday, my 10 year wedding anniversary, or perhaps even live to see a future child grow up – I need, and we all need, more research!
Advocate for yourself and those you love affected by this disease by talking about research and demanding a greater emphasis and more dollars designated for it. That is how your voice, your presence, and your donations can make the biggest impact. This is how you can truly save lives. Without further advances in research, we will continue to lose the women and men we love to this disease.
I know I have a long road ahead of me. I know it will be an uphill battle and that I am likely to experience setbacks along the way. But what helps me get through it is the hope that with each day I live, there will be new discoveries in the laboratories around the world. That the longer I fight to stay healthy, the more time there is to develop new treatments, to investigate the cause of metastases, and eventually find a cure! None of this is possible without money to fund the research.
I can’t thank each and every one of you enough for being here today. You are here because you obviously care about this cause. Perhaps you are a survivor, or you have a loved one who is, or maybe you lost someone to this disease – just like I have lost my mother in law, my grandma, my aunt, and uncle to various forms of cancer.
Please continue to show your support by sharing my story with others - share that this disease doesn’t discriminate based on age – share that over 155,000 women live with this disease as a chronic condition – and that despite how far we’ve come, nearly 40,000 women continue to die each year.
I believe we can change this – I believe that a cure is possible and that if we continue to work hard and support research efforts, I may be able to live a long, happy life with my husband. I believe that each and every one of us can make a difference and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing your part.