I’m a Breast Cancer Survivor: Mary Duffy

I have been a survivor for 28 years now, but I can still remember when I found out I had breast cancer. I had found a breast lump but figured it was a clogged milk duct as I had recently finished nursing my second son. My sister was a resident at the University of California San Francisco and she had encouraged me to have the lump removed for a biopsy; she probably saved my life or at least saved me from a harsher diagnosis. So I went to my doctor on March 17, 1986 to have the lump removed. On the 19th my doctor called. It was cancer. As I heard the words, I collapsed onto my kitchen floor, kneeling in disbelief. At age 29, with no risk factors or family history, this was not a phone call I had ever expected.

My husband and I went to see my doctor to sort out what the diagnosis meant. He kindly, but firmly, told me I would have to have a mastectomy. The following week, I had a mammogram and met with a surgeon. On March 31, 1986, I had a modified radical mastectomy with removal of all lymph nodes (as they did in the 80s) with 1 of the 28 nodes having cancer. They then told me I would have to undergo chemotherapy, which was like hearing I had cancer all over again.

My oncologists and their staff were wonderful, caring for this scared young woman with such kindness. My sons were two and three-years-old. My husband was amazingly supportive. My family and friends were so generous with time and good wishes. I don’t think I cooked a single meal through those six months. My sister, now an oncologist, was and is a huge support system. I received an outpouring of prayers from all over, including people and societies that I had never heard of.

Susan G. Komen was not yet established in Reno. I was visited early on by a Reach to Recovery volunteer from the American Cancer Society, a visit that changed my perspective. For the first time I spoke to someone who shared my experience. I later became a Reach to Recovery volunteer, trainer and ACS chapter president for our county. In 1998, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and SGK was in its organizational infancy. I became involved again as a volunteer. I served on the Board of Directors and was Volunteer Chairman for the Race for the Cure. I have participated in several races and this year will be a part of the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health team.

Just by my years I can bring hope to other survivors. In that time I accumulated plenty of experience and advice I can give. Be willing to accept the help you receive. Most often it is women diagnosed with breast cancer. Women are caregivers who are used to doing a lot for others. Sometimes it is hard to receive help, but it is necessary. Be kind to your body; this is your time to recuperate and rest. Be sure to find caring friends, family or even support groups where you can be vulnerable. You will not feel like Joan of Arc every day. Sometimes it is OK to feel down with people who understand. We are not our disease. We are mothers, sisters, wives and women.

Story by Pypeline Editing

Mary Duffy

Mary Duffy