My name is Mary Vetting, and I am an eight-year breast cancer survivor.
Most people think of breast cancer as an older woman’s disease. It turns out, however, that breast cancer is actually the most common cancer in women aged 15-39.
A cancer diagnosis is terrifying for anyone, but it was especially frightening for me as my Mother died of metastatic breast cancer in 1998, after a brave, 14-year battle, at age 55.
As much as I still miss her everyday, the silver lining is that she became my guardian angel in many ways, but specifically in that high-risk specialists began screening me for breast cancer through bi-yearly mammograms, sonograms, and MRIs at age 31 because my Mother was first diagnosed at age 41.
Therefore, my breast cancer was caught early, before it spread. Even though I’m BRCA negative, a 1.1 centimeter tumor was found on my MRI, and I was diagnosed with stage one invasive breast cancer in 2009, at age 34.
I was treated at Sloan-Kettering and had a lumpectomy, several months of fertility treatments followed by an egg retrieval procedure, eight rounds of CMF chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy, and several reconstructive surgeries over the course of four years. Also, I started taking Tamoxifen in 2010 and have about two years left to go as the protocol is now ten years rather than five.
Shortly after I was diagnosed, I was walking in my neighborhood and passed a store called “The Upper Breast Side,” which is a play on words because it is located on the Upper West Side. I didn’t know if it was a breast cancer organization, or a store for nursing mothers. Turns out it was the latter, but, coincidentally, the woman who owned it was a breast cancer survivor. When I told her that I was in treatment, she recommended that I contact SHARE as she credited them with keeping her sane during her cancer experience.
So I looked them up and soon began attending SHARE’s support group meetings for young women with breast cancer. These meetings and the women I met through them were extraordinarily helpful. They eased my fears, gave me tips on how to cope, encouraged me, and understood my experiences in a way that others couldn’t. My friends and family were amazing, but it was so wonderful to sit in a room full of breast cancer warriors; it gave me hope and made me feel less alone.
A few years later, one of the facilitators at SHARE decided to “retire” after eight years of service and I was asked to take her place. I was flattered to be asked and am honored to be able to spend time with these women warriors on a regular basis, and hopefully help them through their breast cancer journeys.
Throughout my many years with SHARE, I have also become a peer counselor, phone hotline operator, and the co-facilitator of the Coping with Aromatase Inhibitors support group, all of which have been wonderful experiences.
Today, at age 42, the chart in my oncologist’s office reads N.E.D., the three most beautiful letters in the English alphabet. N.E.D. stands for No Evidence of Disease. Words cannot express how grateful I am for my health, and I look forward to the day when every cancer patient’s chart contains those lovely letters.