The Ripple Effect: How a Coworker Sparked My Breast Cancer Prevention

October 2, 2023

It’s estimated that 297,790 women and 2,800 men will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2023.

Cancer touches us all in some way – and until the day comes when a cure is found, it’s up to us to take our health into our own hands and do everything we can to advocate for ourselves and take necessary precautions for prevention. It’s also why I joined G2 Gives in 2022. I wanted to do everything I could to raise money for the American Cancer Society through the G2 Goes Pink initiative. 

When it comes to breast cancer, prevention comes in the form of early mammograms – not waiting until you’re 40 years old, especially if you have family history. Prevention also happens when people you know get diagnosed with breast cancer, answer your tough questions, and inspire you to get a mammogram. 

For that, I have Lucie Duffy to thank. Lucie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022 and shared the first part of her story last October. In addition to detailing how she inspired my prevention journey, she’s also back to share an update on her health and treatment plan.

Update from Lucie

On October 11th, 2022, I underwent a lumpectomy, a pivotal moment that marked the beginning of a journey I never anticipated. The surgery successfully removed my cancer but left me with physical scars that constantly remind me of life's unpredictability. In addition, removing several lymph nodes led to a loss of mobility in my arm, necessitating ongoing physical therapy.

The post-surgery period brought relief and new challenges alike. On one hand, I received the good news that my cancer had not spread and the lumpectomy achieved clean margins. However, the emotional and physical toll of the procedure became evident. Two weeks post-surgery, I embarked on a round of egg retrieval, an experience which proved to be unsuccessful and further strained my body, already recovering from the effects of IVF medications.

Soon after, I began a grueling regimen comprising 20 rounds of radiation. This leg of the journey tested my resilience as I grappled with skin burns, debilitating fatigue, and daily hospital visits. Striking a balance between these challenges and the responsibilities of parenting a nearly two-year-old child was an immense challenge.  It tugged at my heartstrings when he would innocently ask, "Mommy, play with me?" while I lacked the energy to do so. On many days, simply getting out of bed felt like an insurmountable task due to the relentless exhaustion.

On December 12th, 2022, a significant milestone marked the end of my cancer journey: I rang the bell, officially declaring myself cancer-free and ready to embrace the next stage of my treatment plan. Unfortunately, the battle was far from over. Maintenance therapy brought new side effects, from hair loss, hot flashes, and bone and joint aches to insomnia and weakened immunity. Physically, I felt as though I had aged decades in a matter of weeks. 

Lucie ringing the bell, December 2022

Yet, the emotional toll has been equally profound. The first month post-treatment felt like navigating a constant fight-or-flight state, grappling with fears and anxieties about cancer's return or other unforeseen challenges. The trauma of medical experiences lingers, sometimes manifesting in unexpected moments of vulnerability.

Turning to a therapist was a pivotal step in my healing journey. Together, we delved into the profound grief of losing the option to have more children—a heart-wrenching choice snatched away by cancer. As we unraveled the layers of my personal experience, an unwavering desire to make a positive impact began to take root within me.

This drive stemmed from a profound need to ensure that everyone comprehended the potential risks they faced. I was determined to convey to everyone out there that this ordeal could also happen to them. It was a revelation that stirred deep within, igniting my determination to raise awareness and empower others to prioritize their health. I urged them to undergo screenings and become proactive advocates for their well-being. I firmly believed that by openly sharing my journey, I could inspire at least one person to prioritize their health and seek regular screenings.

Before my own diagnosis, I believed I was "low risk," given the absence of family history, the absence of a palpable lump, and my age being under 40. I had felt invincible. Now, I tirelessly advocate for everyone, irrespective of age, to be proactive in safeguarding their health. I encourage them to get a mammogram and establish a baseline, even if they are as young as 30. Waiting is not an option.

In the face of adversity, I have unearthed strength, resilience, and a renewed sense of purpose. My journey is a testament to the critical importance of early detection and self-advocacy, and I remain dedicated to spreading this message far and wide. Together, we can make a difference in our own lives and the lives of countless others.

Lucie with her husband and son in Tuscany

How Lucie impacted my prevention journey

Lucie impacted my breast cancer prevention journey when she posted in the G2 Women Slack channel in July 2022. Her message to G2 employees read, “Call your doctor and get a mammogram scheduled, it’s never too early to start.”

This message lingered in my brain for weeks, but at 33 years old, I knew the standard protocol was to wait until I turned 40 to talk to my doctor about getting my first mammogram. But then, Lucie posted again in October, saying, “I tell everyone to get a mammogram even if they don’t think they need one.”

I sent her a direct message because I had questions about exactly how to schedule a mammogram if you were under 40. Lucie answered all my questions about what type of doctor can refer a patient for a mammogram. She told me, “Book one now. It’s better to get a baseline on record so that if something small does start to form, they can spot it and treat it.” 

I was uncertain that my doctor would refer me for a mammogram, even with some of my extended family members having breast cancer. Lucie told me, “If they give you pushback on a mammogram, let your doctor know you have friends under 40 with no history of cancer, didn’t carry the gene, didn’t feel a lump, and have breast cancer. Tell them you want a preventative mammogram for peace of mind.”

So I did.

My own prevention journey

I booked an appointment for a physical with my primary doctor at the end of October, where I expressed my interest in getting a mammogram. My doctor gave me the referral I requested, and I scheduled the first available time slot for a mammogram on December 22nd.

I arrived early with butterflies in my stomach, but I knew I was making the right choice to start my prevention journey before I turned 40. I got my results just a few hours later, but they weren’t what I expected. I needed to go back for another mammogram and an ultrasound for more imaging. 

As I scrolled through my results, I saw a lot of words and phrases that I didn’t understand:

  • Breast Density Category D
  • Asymmetry in the central right breast at middle depth
  • Asymmetry in the superior retroareolar region in the right breast
  • Asymmetries in the right breast require additional evaluation with diagnostic mammographic views and possible ultrasound

I scheduled my follow-up for the first available appointment, but with the holidays approaching, I couldn’t schedule it until January 5th. I had a lot of questions, and I did what everyone tells you not to do – I Googled.

I first learned that Breast Density Category D meant that my tissue looked almost completely white on my mammograms. This makes it harder for radiologists to find tumors and masses that may also appear as white areas on a mammogram. I also learned that about 10% of women have Category D tissue. 

The rest was harder to find answers for, but I got the gist that there was something in my right breast that my doctors wanted a clearer picture of. My follow-up appointment consisted of another mammogram and an ultrasound of my right breast. Following these two tests, a doctor told me I have a probably benign cluster of cysts in my right breast.

After feeling relief at hearing the word benign, I became confused at the word probably. Who wants to hear they probably don’t have breast cancer? My doctor reassured me I had nothing to worry about and told me to schedule a six-month follow-up appointment in addition to an appointment at a high-risk breast cancer facility. 

Before leaving, I made my six-month follow-up appointment for July 5th. Then, I reached out to the high-risk breast cancer facility for an appointment, only to find out the first available appointment was May. This made me wonder just how many other women in my area were going through the same thing I was if I had to wait five months for the first available appointment.

That appointment mainly consisted of giving my doctor an extensive rundown of my family history to get a baseline for my risk level. The doctor also reassured me she’d be keeping tabs on my tests and advised me to get a blood test for genetic testing.

My six-month follow-up mammogram and ultrasound confirmed that the cluster of cysts was stable (non-changing in size), and my doctor further reassured me that I shouldn’t be concerned and that these cysts weren’t cancer. The protocol we decided on moving forward is that I’ll have my annual mammogram in January 2024, and if the cysts are still stable (the same size), I can continue with annual imaging instead of six months.

Why I oversee Breast Cancer Awareness Month at G2

I have several reasons why leading G2 Goes Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is so important to me, but the two most important reasons are because of Meghan Henry and Michelle Amari.

I met Meghan Henry in my sophomore year of college in 2008. The first few things I noticed about her was that she was so incredibly full of energy and had one of the most infectious laughs I had ever heard. I also knew she wore a wig.

A few months into our friendship, I found out why – she was diagnosed with Stage 2 Wilms Tumor, a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children between the ages of 3 and 4, when she was 16 years old in September 2005. She had one of her kidneys removed, underwent six months of chemotherapy, and went into remission. 

In August 2006, she relapsed with Wilms Tumor in both lungs. In the following months, her team of doctors would discover that her cancer didn’t respond to standard chemotherapy. She underwent a double tandem autologous stem cell transplant in January 2007, and her condition improved, placing her back in remission.

Meghan relapsed for a second time in July 2008, just before the start of our sophomore year. In addition to participating in several clinical studies and experimental treatments, Meghan was also enrolled in the nursing program and enjoyed a full social life. We became extremely close our sophomore year and ended up rooming together our junior and senior years at college.

Mara and Meghan, September 2010

Throughout that time, I watched Meghan endure every treatment known to cure Wilms Tumor and countless experimental treatments while still excelling in her nursing classes and doing her best to be an average college student. We had countless late nights watching Grey’s Anatomy, celebrating everyone in our close-knit friend group turning 21, and laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe. 

In January 2011, Meghan told our friend group she was taking a medical leave of absence from school due to cancer-related complications. At the time, her cancer had spread to her femur and liver. A few short weeks later, she told us she would stop all efforts to fight her cancer and live the rest of her life to the fullest.  

In March 2011, our friend group went on a spring break cruise to Key West and Cozumel. Meghan and I bunked in the same room. I’ll never forget waking up in the middle of the night to see her lying awake in bed. She told me she had a really bad headache and couldn’t sleep. I said, “Maybe you got too much sun today. I felt a headache coming on earlier, too.” She looked at me and said, “It’s not from the sun.” 

Mara and Meghan in Cozumel, March 2011

When we got home, we learned her cancer had spread to her brain. Our friend group rallied to plan and throw her a Halloween in April birthday party at our on-campus house for her birthday on April 8. After a brave fight for six years, Meghan succumbed to the disease on May 6th, 2011, at 22 years old, just a few weeks before we were supposed to graduate from college together.

My other reason for overseeing Breast Cancer Awareness Month is because of my aunt, Michelle Amari, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer in January 2012. I remember my parents hesitating to break this news to me as I was still reeling from losing Meghan.

My aunt underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy. She needed multiple reconstructive surgeries and experienced a long list of side effects. Despite the odds, my aunt went into remission for just shy of nine years. In 2016, we took a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation to Italy and France, a trip I will cherish and remember for as long as I live.

Mara and Michelle in Paris, March 2016

In December 2021, Michelle began experiencing a lot of pain in her stomach and several other concerning symptoms. After a long list of tests, evaluations, and scans, we learned her cancer had returned, this time in her gastrointestinal tract. 

Michelle is currently undergoing various experimental treatments and clinical trials to control her symptoms and side effects. She took some time away from her career in early 2023, but thanks to her cancer markers improving to just shy of “remission” and other side effects improving, she was able to return to work in August 2023. Our family remains hopeful that we have several more years of memories ahead of us. 

Prevention is possible.

Here in the U.S., because of the Affordable Care Act, health insurers must cover mammograms every 1-2 years for women over the age of 40 at no cost to the patient. However, if you have health insurance and are under 40, coverage and cost can vary depending on your plan—which, if we’re honest, is frustrating. 

The good news is that many amazing organizations today are dedicated to preventing breast cancer, such as Susan G. Komen and breastcancer.org, which provide resources and information on getting free or low-cost mammograms.

No matter how old you are or whether or not you have a family history of breast cancer, we cannot stress enough how important it is to advocate for yourself and get a mammogram before turning 40. Having a baseline from when you’re younger can make a huge difference later in life as you get yearly scans.

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by cancer, consider donating to the G2 Goes Pink page here.

The Ripple Effect: How a Coworker Sparked My Breast Cancer Prevention Cancer touches us all in some way – and until the day comes when a cure is found, it’s up to us to take our health into our own hands and do everything we can to advocate for ourselves and take necessary precautions for prevention. It’s also why I joined G2 Gives in 2022. I wanted to do everything I could to raise money for the American Cancer Society through the G2 Goes Pink initiative. https://learn.g2.com/hubfs/g2-goes-pink.png
Mara Calvello Mara Calvellos is a Content Marketing Manager at G2. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Elmhurst College (now Elmhurst University). Mara works on our G2 Tea newsletter, while also writing content to support categories on artificial intelligence, natural language understanding (NLU), AI code generation, synthetic data, and more. In her spare time, she's out exploring with her rescue dog Zeke or enjoying a good book. https://learn.g2.com/hubfs/IMG_6361.jpeg https://www.linkedin.com/in/mara-calvello