, Salem, MA

October 16, 2012

From the mouths of survivors

By Lisa Iannucci CTW Features
The Salem News

---- — Meet Tara Mullen

Tara Mullen, 38, is a married mom of two daughters, ages 8 and 5. She was diagnosed at age 35 for “ductal carcinoma in situ” after her doctors found a cyst in her breast. Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a noninvasive breast cancer with abnormal cells contained in the milk ducts. “In situ” means “in place” because the cells have not left the milk ducts to invade nearby breast tissue.

“Due to my family history of breast cancer, they were keeping an eye on it and I was getting an ultrasound every six months,” she says.

A few months later, the fluid-filled cyst turned into a solid mass. “I didn’t hear anything after the doctor told me that I had breast cancer,” Mullen says.

The doctors performed a lumpectomy, and a few months later, more cysts were found. “They weren’t in the lymph nodes, thankfully, but I opted for a double mastectomy in May 2012,” she says.

Mullen went through radiation treatment and a chemotherapy shot in her stomach every three months. “I never had a choice to stop going and never had time to really think about it,” Mullen says. “I broke down at the end of radiation when it all hit me at once and my radiation oncologist said, ‘I was waiting for that.’”

“I worked in the oncology department, so when I heard the news, my first thought was, ‘What stage is it? Did it metastasize?’” she says. “I thought about my kids, they were small and I didn’t know whether it had spread or not. And all of the surgery was a pain.”

Mullen says she couldn’t care less that she lost her breasts. “I just wanted them off me,” she says. “I didn’t want to have to worry about it anymore. You can get them reconstructed. There are more important things than breasts. What I hated was the fact that I couldn’t care for myself and all of a sudden I was shut down completely with drains in me.”

Mullen needs more reconstructive surgery, but she says her health is good.

Meet Meridith Stevens

Meridith Stevens was diagnosed with inflammatory invasive ductal carcinoma on Oct. 26, 2011. It had spread to some of her lymph nodes.

“I followed through on a suspicious lump in my left breast and then other topical changes that were apparent,” she says. “I don’t remember exactly when it was, but I think my suspicions started in early August. I had felt a hard lump in my breast, perhaps an inch away from my nipple. I noticed it by chance, either adjusting a bra or showering. Prior, I had not been good about self-examinations because I had cystic breasts and I blew off self-examining because I figured I’d always be feeling lumpiness, so I might as well leave it up to the experts to determine the differences.”

This time, it was different though. “It was more solid than I had ever felt. I was in complete disbelief because, for goodness sake, I had just had a clear mammogram in April. There was no way the lump could be anything serious.”

As time went on, the lump got harder and bigger and began to swell, and Stevens’ nipple began to discolor and invert. The skin over the lump and neighboring area started turning red and swelling, too.

She was treated with two rounds of chemotherapy and a mastectomy and then radiation. “Next July, I will have the right breast removed and the first of my reconstruction surgery for both breasts,” she says. “Physically, besides having a higher blood pressure than at the start, residual fatigue from chemo treatments, and having to lose weight and get in condition, I’m otherwise healthy.”