Survivor Story

Winning the Battle

By Mary Gravley

I was diagnosed with non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ in 2011 after a routine mammogram that I nearly missed. I never felt a lump but instinct and timing get the credit for the quick diagnosis. My insurance company sent me a letter stating my annual exam was six months overdue. I made an appointment the following day. A call back and ultra sound found suspicious calcifications deep in my left breast. The radiologist went with his gut and recommended a biopsy instead of waiting the standard 6 months for a follow-up. It was positive. One week later, on October 3rd, a lumpectomy removed all cancer and a large margin of good tissue. Additional treatment included radiation and Tamoxifen. Early detection was critical. Pathology results found an aggressive cancer. Waiting 6 months would have produced a much different outcome and treatment.

At 49, I was the first in my family of 6 women to have breast cancer. My father died of lung cancer one year earlier. I knew I couldn’t fight this alone. It took the love, prayers, encouragement, and support of faith, family, friends, strangers, and doctors. My husband is my rock! As a local sports anchor, Jeff spent a lot of time interviewing Coach Kay Yow during her battle with this disease. The interviews included her oncologist Dr. Mark Graham. When I was diagnosed, it was an easy decision who to talk to next. Dr. Graham met with Jeff and me one evening for 2 hours to discuss my options for surgery and post op. Oncologists are special people as I learned with my father’s own doctor. They spend a great deal of time listening and providing information with their patients. Dr. Graham is no exception. I quickly learned to schedule and allow plenty of time before and after appointments.

Getting the diagnosis was difficult. Giving the news to my 17-year-old daughter could have been a lot harder, but again, timing was in my favor. One month before my diagnosis, Megan began a high school class project raising funds for cancer research. She and two classmates spent 5 months organizing The Peak City Gala of Hope. After completing radiation, I felt comfortable enough to go public. At Megan’s request, I became one of the many cancer survivors for the event and their inspiration. It wasn’t easy at first. Every time I mentioned the C word my lip would quiver and heart beat faster. With love, support and time, I got stronger. As it turned out, Megan and her friends were my inspiration. The gala raised $30,000.

Five years later, I remain cancer free. Each follow-up appointment with the oncologist brings some expected anxiety followed by a sigh of relief. Dr. Graham still spends as much time with me now as he did the first visit. My best advice to others is to follow your gut and trust your instincts. You’ll get lots advice both good and bad. Do what is best for you.

I have found it so encouraging to be around other survivors. When I participate in the Play4Kay game at NC State each February, or the Kay Yow Cancer Fund Celebration Run/Walk, I am uplifted by the connection we share through a common journey.  There is no such thing as “a little bit of cancer.” The diagnosis changed my life, but thanks to the team of support around me, I am winning the battle!

To make a donation to the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, click here.

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