Thursday, November 15, 2012

Survivor Spotlight: Mari's Story

Meet Mari. Mari had not done a thorough breast self-exam for some time due to her busy scheduling, working for her family’s business and taking care of her two-year-old grandson. In 2010 on a Labor Day weekend mini-vacation, she felt a hard lump in her right breast. She contacted her doctor to schedule a mammogram and ultrasound, but the lump did not show up in either of the exams. Her doctor told her to come back in six months, but she decided to get a second opinion and was told to schedule an MRI. 

The MRI found a six centimeter mass on her right breast. The biopsies confirmed cancer. The doctor concluded that if she had waited six months like she was told to do instead of a seeking a second opinion, she would have passed away within three months. 

Mari’s form of cancer is known as aggressive lobular which can be described as sheets that are too thin to show up on mammograms or ultrasounds, versus other types of cancer that form as “balls.” The doctor found Mari was a candidate for reconstruction and decided she would need chemotherapy. When it was time for her surgery, Mari’s tumor had grown to nine cm and had spread to her lymph nodes. 

After six grueling hours, her right breast and 25 lymph nodes were extracted. Chemotherapy was her next battle; the fifth treatment took a huge toll on her body, triggering her immune system to weaken, dehydrating her and causing her to go to the hospital daily for fluids. Mari had faced numerous other struggles from cellulitis, pneumonia, and lymphedema. Her most recent struggle is due to her reconstructive surgery, known as the flap method, in which her seam burst underneath her arm causing fluid to continuously discharge. She is currently receiving hyperbaric chamber treatments which will help to build blood vessels and transform the radiated tissue to normal tissue.

“It’s terrible; it’s awful; it’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but there is good that came out of it,” said Mari. Her family has been her biggest support system both physically and emotionally. Susan G. Komen has also been an integral part of Mari’s journey.

The time commitment and harsh side effects from chemotherapy and radiation caused Mari to stop working. Mari was introduced to the Southeast Wisconsin Affiliate through a Wheaton Franciscan social worker, who connected her with Kohl’s Southeast Wisconsin Breast Health Assistance Fund. The organization provided her with a glove and sleeve to help her with her lymphedema. Komen also provided funding to pay for prescriptions and her abdominal pad for her underarm where the seam burst. She has also received encouragement through Facebook, Yahoo Groups, and many friends. She now spends her time outside of treatment knitting hats for kids with cancer. Through Mari’s story she hopes others can learn the importance of regular breast self-exams beginning at an early age.

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