Gastonia, NC—Occasionally, we get to a point in our lives when we see our path
diverging in front of us and find ourselves at a clear crossroads. These
moments usually indicate change and involve choices to be made. When we
experience change, whether it involves the start of a new career or maybe
we are faced with a challenging health situation, the crossroads we find
ourselves can either inspire or paralyze us. The choice is ours to make.
Twenty years ago, Lyn Anderson met her crossroad when she was diagnosed
with breast cancer. Flooded with emotion because of this unwelcomed interruption
in life, Lyn was faced with a choice – she could give up or she
could fight. Lyn chose to embrace her diagnosis and make this a moment
of profound and lasting change. This is Lyn’s story of survival.
Lyn thought nothing of it when she arrived for her annual doctor’s
appointment. What she thought was just a routine visit, turned into something
much more serious. While performing her breast exam, her doctor detected
a suspicious lump. Within a few days, Lyn went in for an ultrasound and
other diagnostic testing to confirm the news. In January 1996, at age
43, Lyn was diagnosed Stage II invasive breast cancer.
Cancer is prevalent in Lyn’s family, placing her at a higher risk.
But regardless of this risk, Lyn never thought it would happen to her.
Faced with a decision about how to handle this news, Lyn choose to tackle
Wasting no time, Lyn’s doctors created a personalized treatment plan
that included surgery to remove the cancerous tissues. Following the surgery,
Lyn underwent radiation treatment at CaroMont Cancer Center.
“I worked throughout my entire treatment and would go in every morning
before I went into the office,” said Lyn. “That was my favorite
time of day—it was quiet, it was dark. I never really heard much
except peaceful nature sounds they had playing in the background. It was
a very calm time.”
After radiation, Lyn started chemotherapy. To keep her strength up, doctors
recommended walking as opposed to strenuous exercise. So, that’s
what she did. Lyn says she was very fortunate because she felt mostly
well during her treatments and didn’t lose her hair. Lyn completed
her last chemo treatment in September 1996 and to celebrate being cancer-free,
she joined the YMCA and started a book club.
The beginning of a new life
Twenty years later, Lyn hasn’t skipped a beat and is still waking
up at 5:30 a.m. five days a week—sometimes six—to attend different
group exercise classes at the YMCA. She enjoys attending Group RPM®,
a high-intensity cardiovascular exercise performed on a stationary bicycle,
strength training classes and her favorite, Body Flow®, which she
says is like a self massage. And she’s still meeting regularly with
her book club. Inspired by famous movie actor Cary Grant because of his
persistence to turn a passion for acting into a reality, Lyn says she
discovered through her cancer journey that life is precious, and “if
you want something, you have to become it.” It was also during this
time that she decided to make some changes in her life and stop making excuses.
“My girls were 14 and 10 at the time I was diagnosed with breast
cancer, so I decided morning workouts were the only way I was going to
get it in,” said Lyn. “I would set the alarm and wake up each
morning and say aloud, ‘Become it!’ And it worked. I try to
live that way today. If you want to be that person, be that person. Don’t
make any excuses. That’s when I made that change in my life.”
In a recent letter addressed to her doctors and the medical team who cared
for her, Lyn thanked them for giving her a second chance at life. She
sent the letter to mark her 20-year anniversary of being cancer-free.
An excerpt from the letter read, “I wanted to let you know how much
I have enjoyed the last twenty years. It was the beginning of a new life
for me. My life…has been rich, varied, full of love and happiness,
heightened by my brush with cancer, but healthy, with your help.”
Advancements in medicine
Through medical research and continued advancements in medicine, doctors
are able to diagnose breast cancer earlier when treatment is most likely
to be successful. It was around the time of Lyn’s diagnosis that
scientists discovered the
BRCA 1/2 gene, which can be passed down from either parent and has been linked
to breast cancer. Fortunately for Lyn, her cancer was found early enough
and doctors were able to make decisions even without the knowledge of the
BRCA genetic mutations. But because of her experience and her family history
of cancer, Lyn decided to pursue genetic counseling and testing to understand
her risk of developing other types of cancer and the genetic risk that
could have been passed to her daughters. Lyn and her two sisters underwent
genetic testing, which identified the
BRCA gene mutation in Lyn and one of her sisters.
“Genetic counseling identifies those at increased risk of cancer,
in order to promote awareness, early detection and cancer prevention.
It can also help guide treatment and follow-up options for those already
diagnosed,” said Ashley Migliaro, MS, CGC, Certified Genetic Counselor
at CaroMont Cancer Center. “Having a positive test result indicates
that a person has inherited a harmful mutation, but it doesn’t necessarily
mean he or she will develop cancer. However, having this information can
have important health implications for family and future generations.”
Like other gene mutations,
BRCA1and BRACA2 mutations are rare in the general population. In the U.S., between one
in 400 and one in 800 people have a
BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. According to Susan G. Komen® organization, estimates of
risk are different for
BRCA1 carriers have a 55 to 65 percent chance of developing breast cancer by
age 70 and
BRCA2 carriers have about a 45 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70.
BRCA1 or BRCA2 carriers may also have an increased chance of ovarian, pancreatic, prostate
(in men) and some second primary cancers (new cancers that develop after
a first breast cancer).1
Lyn waited to share the genetic testing results with her daughters because
she wanted them to be old enough to process the information and make thoughtful,
well-informed decisions. Both of Lyn’s daughters were tested and
results confirmed her eldest is a carrier of one of the
BRCA 2 mutation. Options for the prevention of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer include
screening, preventive surgery and chemoprevention. Having seen what her
mother went through, an aunt who had
BRCA 2 diagnosis and subsequent breast cancer in 2014 and to safeguard herself,
Lyn’s eldest daughter made the difficult decision to have a prophylactic
bilateral mastectomy and direct to implant breast reconstruction or “one-step”
procedure, and a bilateral salpingectomy (BSO).
“I went through my entire cancer treatment without the knowledge
of my inherited risk,” said Lyn. “I remember thinking how
difficult it would have been to make this decision like my daughter did
at 34, but she’s strong and has recovered so well.”
A different perspective
Lyn can see the effect cancer has had on her and her family—her
diagnosis, her father who died from pancreatic cancer and then her daughter’s
experience. Through it all, Lyn still believes her personal experience
with cancer was only a “brush with mortality,” and despite
its harrowing effect, she believes her experiences opened her eyes to
see the disease from a different perspective.
“Cancer is a terrible disease,” said Lyn. “But, I came
to realize that there is one blessing with cancer and that’s that
you usually have the time to say goodbye. You realize that life is about
being around those you love. I also discovered through my personal experience
that I love taste and color and sound, and it [cancer] enriched all that.”
Lyn has a sticker on the back of her cell phone that reads: Pay attention.
Be astonished. Tell about it.—three simple instructions that serve
not only as a daily reminder of her experience, but her very important
decision twenty years ago to live to tell her story.