Through Our Eyes: How Breast Cancer Has Affected Us

October 16 2019

Everyone’s story matters, and that’s what makes Mylan’s mission to promote better health very personal. After all, everyone we’re trying to reach is somebody’s friend, neighbor, or family member, including our own.

Because we’re inspired by all of their stories, we’re sharing some of our own for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Read below about how breast cancer, the most common cancer in women around the world1, has affected three members of the Mylan family: a mom, a daughter and sister, and a friend.

A Mom

Kimberly Messier, manager of Human Relations, St. Albans, Vermont.

In October 2009, I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, my youngest son was only 1 and my oldest son was 7.  I was 37 years old and devasted.  I am the one who found the lump through self- examination. Next, a mammogram and a biopsy confirmed my worst fears.  With no history of breast cancer in my family, I was shocked by the diagnosis but determined to remain positive through surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and continued maintenance treatments. 

In October 2014, I was happy and relieved to reach the major milestone of being cancer-free for over 5 years.  What an accomplishment!  But in August the following year, I knew something was wrong. I was experiencing similar pain to when I first had breast cancer and I didn’t have a good feeling.  I told my doctor my concerns during a routine visit and based on my symptoms, she immediately scheduled me for a mammogram.  The test confirmed my fear: I had a re-occurrence of breast cancer in the same area as I was diagnosed in October 2009.  Since this new cancer was caught early and had not spread to other parts of my body, I had a mastectomy, hoping this would be the end of my cancer journey.

And it was. For a while. In June 2018, the skin at the site of my mastectomy had developed red blotches.  I was concerned and, after several months of telling doctors that I thought something was wrong, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, also known as Metastatic Breast Cancer, which is cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. 

A year has passed since that awful diagnosis, and I am still working and living my life as normally as I possibly can.  Breakthroughs in new medicines are keeping me alive and I have, for the most part, adjusted to my “new normal.”

I live in St. Albans, Vermont, with my wonderful husband of 23 years, Jamie and my two sons Brendan and Nicholas. I have been with Mylan for 23 years and am blessed to work with such a wonderful and supportive group of people, especially my fellow co-workers in Vermont. 

All three times, I have been my own best advocate in finding the disease and pursuing any avenues available to me.  Currently, there is no cure for my cancer.  I still remain positive and hope to live my “best life” for as long as I can and ultimately hope that a cure is found.

I encourage everyone to think about what you can do to live a healthier life, get all the required preventative health screenings available to you and most importantly to “live in the now.”   I hope to continue to not only survive but to thrive for many years to come.

A Daughter and a Sister

Anne Wilson, head of External and Political Engagement, Washington, D.C.

Breast cancer, and cancer in general, is omnipresent in our family.  My mother was diagnosed for the first time with triple-negative breast cancer at 48, when I was a junior in college.  Her sister at 47.  Her other sister at 52.  Her mother died of ovarian cancer.  And then my mother’s second triple-negative diagnosis came at 62.  She beat it again, but it was hard – so very hard.  Chemo is not pretty, it’s not miraculous, it’s not anything but hard.

I am the oldest of three girls.  We begged my mom to get tested for the BRCA gene, but she refused – she didn’t want to know if she “gave” her daughters cancer.  Finally, one of the aunts got genetically screened and there it was – BRCA1 mutation.  After that, my sisters and I went to get tested.  I was negative for the mutation.  But both of my sisters were positive.

Since they’ve received their news, both of my sisters have been proactive – they’re a great example of why it’s important to arm people with information about their health and to be proactive about care.  They both enrolled in monitoring programs at academic medical institutions.  They both have checkups every six months.  And last year, they both chose to have preventive mastectomies before they each turned 40.  That’s not an easy decision to make – there’s so much intertwined with the decision to have a mastectomy.  You may be removing some of the likelihood of cancer, but you’re also removing a part of your womanhood, and it’s an emotionally and physically draining process even before the surgeon starts her job.  I’m in awe of their strength every day.

A lot of people tell me how lucky I am to be in the clear.  But I certainly never feel in the clear.  My mom’s brothers have also had cancer – a neck cancer and a prostate cancer.  And my father’s mother and sister have also had breast cancer.  So while I don’t have the BRCA1 mutation that my sisters and mother do, that omnipresence still affects my reaction to every bump, bruise, or off day I have.  But cancer is also a great equalizer in a world that right now is so intent on highlighting our differences, so in a way I feel a sense of connectedness to the women around me of every race, ethnicity, economic status, or sexuality for whom breast cancer, or the threat of it, is a daily reality.

There is no panacea for the problem of cancer.  “Curing” cancer is actually an effort to cure thousands of different diseases, all of which attack your body in different, mind-blowing ways.  But I’m so appreciative of the research that goes into doing that, and all of the great minds around the world who have taken on that monumental task.

And as someone who has lived with loved ones fighting the daily battle, I’m proud of the work that Mylan does to make that fight just a little bit easier.  Financial toxicity is real and it’s just as much of a threat to a patient’s well-being as cancer is.  Our drive to lighten the load for people whose very lives are at stake are one of the many reasons I come to work every day.  Thank you to all of my colleagues who own a piece of that – for you, my family and I are grateful.

A Friend

Jeanie Smith, senior director of Marketing, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

Having met on a ski slope in Vermont more than 15 years ago, Tracey and I became friends instantly. I love her wry sense of humor and matter-of-fact outlook on life and its challenges. In fact, that’s the primary reason why I was worried about her when she told us about her diagnosis of HER2+ breast cancer at age 49.

Friends can be a wonderful source of emotional and practical support during the breast cancer journey. And sometimes acquaintances become good friends – but, sadly, sometimes close friends fall away, simply because they don’t know what to say or how to help. I knew I wanted to be there for my friend.

Tracey initially went in for a physical exam as part of her application to be a foster parent – I was so (and still am) so very proud of her in this decision. The whole process was easy for her – albeit a lot of paperwork, until they mandated a routine physical. Doctors found several areas of suspected breast cancer. A biopsy was ordered immediately and confirmed HER2 overexpressing disease. As her mind went blank, she was led into another room and told chemo could start the next day. Confused and in shock, she walked out.

This is where her friends enter the story. We told her she wasn’t alone and that she would never again be going to the doctor alone. We insisted she get a second opinion and she scheduled an appointment with a research physician at another hospital. The doctor, part of an oncology team of eight healthcare professionals, told Tracey the cancer wasn’t her fault and that they would provide her the tools she needed to fix it.  They told her she was an excellent candidate for their clinical trial program and their goal was a lumpectomy, not a mastectomy as she had feared.

As treatment started, two friends accompanied Tracey to every infusion, appointments that often lasted all day long. We sat with her and kept her company. We helped her wet her hair and put on the cold cap, which may prevent hair loss, something Tracey feared since she intended to keep working during treatment. Another good friend created an online spreadsheet so friends and family could track Tracey’s progress.

Today, 97% of Tracey’s cancer is gone and she will undergo radiation for the other 3% as well as one year of biologic treatment - a model clinical study participant, according to her oncology care team.

And during the last stages of her treatment, something magical happened. Tracey got a call from her foster care program coordinator about two little girls in desperate need of a home. Despite her predicament, my friend never hesitated – her true nature – and, she immediately welcomed the girls into her home. The girls are so wonderful for Tracey and ground her in love and positivity every day.

For anyone who has a good friend who finds out they have breast cancer, don’t be fearful that you won’t know what to say. Just be yourself. Be a friend. Often there is no need for words – respect that her journey will be different from yours and follow her lead.

1. Breast cancer statistics. World Cancer Research Fund. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/cancer-trends/breast-cancer-statistics. Accessed October 8, 2019. 

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