Living without breast cancer — one mom’s story

You’d think that ‘living without breast cancer’ wouldn’t actually be a thing, especially for someone who hasn’t ever had breast cancer. But oddly enough, it is. At least, for me.

When my mom passed away, she was 29 years old. I was just shy of four. In my early years, this didn’t really phase me. Even if the same cancerous fate awaited me, 29 was a long way off — until suddenly it wasn’t. Entering my twenties was a total game changer. The countdown had suddenly begun. Rational or not, I waited for breast cancer to show up. I didn’t live in fear. The prospect of cancer didn’t make me sad. I wasn’t remotely dramatic about it. It just seemed obvious that it would come and get me, as it had come to get my mother.

I took comfort in knowing how far science had come since my mom had been diagnosed. I talked openly with friends about how I’d fight the battle as best I could. And I joked about how I’d gladly trade in my modestly sized breasts for a more substantial serving  if a double mastectomy was ever in order. (I’m a firm believer in seeking out the silver lining.) I also acknowledged very pragmatically that I might never live to see 40, and I was ok with that, too. Until I became a mother.

A letter I wrote to my mom

Breast cancer isn’t for moms. Or anyone, for that matter.

I was 35 when I brought Lucy into this world; six years older than my own mom had been when she passed away, but not old enough to consider myself out of the woods. Cancer wasn’t an option. I mean, as moms, we have an essential role to play. Now, instead of cancer being the ‘given’ that I had come to terms with, it was something I lived in constant fear of.

Because of my family history, my family doctor referred me to an excellent breast cancer clinic when I was in my mid-twenties. Twice a year, I would visit this clinic for hands-on examinations. Once a year, I’d go for mammograms and/or ultrasounds. While one would have thought that this diligent monitoring would have put my mind at rest, it actually heightened my anxiety. Twice a year, I anticipated ‘getting the news.’ Worse, I anticipated having to share that news with those I loved. It was always a relief when the bad news didn’t come, but no sooner had relief set in, it would start to build in anticipation of the next appointment.

In 2003, I nearly had breast cancer.

Following some less than perfect imaging of my right breast, I was called in for a needle biopsy. Just a precaution, they said, to make sure that what they were seeing wasn’t cancer. A couple of weeks later I got a call from my doctor. The biopsy had revealed atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH). In a nutshell, ADH refers to abnormal cell growth. While this abnormality itself  doesn’t mean breast cancer is present, it does have some traits that are commonly found in pre-cancer and it is therefore linked to an increased risk of getting breast cancer later on.

I was petrified. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing preliminary about this investigation. They were simply going through the motions so that they could confirm I did indeed have cancer and begin my treatment plan. Here we go, I thought. They scheduled a lumpectomy. ADH was once again detected, reaffirming that I was at high risk for breast cancer. My doctor recommended that I take Tamoxifin but I was paralyzed with fear.

Tamoxifen can help lower a high-risk woman’s chance of developing breast cancer.

A drug that can help stave off cancer. That’s gotta be good, right? You’d think, but still, it took me five years to fill my prescription. Why? I understood that five years of consistent drug use could potentially buy me 10 cancer-free years. Based on this information, I made some calculations. If I were to start taking Tamoxifen right away, Lucy would be eight by the time I was done. I’d enjoy reduced risk until she turned 18 and then BOOM. Cancer would come and get me. She’d be neither child nor adult. This wouldn’t be a good time to get cancer.

If, however, I was to wait until she was nine, I’d be done with Tamoxifen by the time she turned 14, and she could more or less count on me to see her through to 24. A much better alternative, so that’s what I opted for.

Living without breast cancer is way better than living with it, but it’s still one helluva ride.

For me, it appears this ride is finally over. Today, I went to see my breast cancer specialist. It turns out I’m not very special any more, and I couldn’t be happier. I have outlived my mother by 22 years. She was pre-menopausal when she was diagnosed. As for me, I am now post-menopausal. I am not my mother and I am no longer waiting for her fate to play out in my life. Furthermore, it’s been 14 years since those atypical cells showed up in my right breast. They’ve had plenty of time to turn into cancer, and they’ve chosen not to. I am thankful for that.

I am no longer living without cancer. I’m just living. Period. I am healthy, happy and optimistic. And hey, my paternal grandmother lived until she was 103, so why not me?

Have you lost a parent?

Are you afraid that their destiny may become yours? If so, I hope this story encourages you to park your fear. Be in this moment. Live your best life. And put away lots of money for your retirement. Plan to be here for a very, very long time because it may just happen.

Viv for today xo

So contrary to the fears of my early years, I am now optimistic that, like my maternal grandmother, I may well live to the ripe old age of 103! Berta was an incredible woman and I invite you to enjoy a dose of her sunny disposition here.

Oh, and if you like what you’ve just read, scroll up to the GET MY NEWSLETTER button and subscribe. I’ll deliver all future posts straight to your inbox.

2020-05-11T12:58:19-04:00July 10th, 2017|Categories: WELLBEING|24 Comments


  1. Mae July 11, 2017 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    Thanks for being so brave and sharing this very personal story. I lost my mother to cancer two years ago. Cancer was a disease that didn’t seem real as we never had anyone in the family had it, until my mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Then, it came so real to me—it’s an ugly disease. I cannot imagine going through the yearly anxiety as you have. I can only tell you how inspired I am by your courage to share this story.

    • THE WORDY MOM July 11, 2017 at 10:22 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much. I must admit, I feel like a phony, talking about a fear when the fact is I myself haven’t actually had cancer, but it really was overwhelming for the longest time. Sending you a hug and my sincere sympathies for your own tragic loss x

  2. Jasmine Hewitt July 12, 2017 at 9:54 am - Reply

    I learn more about you everytime I read-thank you for sharing such a personal story. Cancer is something I also have to keep in the back of my mind as a Mom…my son just turned 2

    • THE WORDY MOM July 12, 2017 at 11:01 am - Reply

      Thank you Jasmine. I feel like I’m getting to know you, too. Enjoying this blogging journey very much, and the wonderful blogging community that keeps me committed.

  3. jhilmil July 12, 2017 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    This was such an honest & true post.. how a mother deals with her emotions & wants to be with her child as long as possible. My maternal granny had Breast cancer when she was young in 30’s, she had to get both her breasts removed & then she was fine & lived till some 75years of age. Best, it did not pass on to next generations & I’m happy of that!

    • THE WORDY MOM July 12, 2017 at 9:28 pm - Reply

      Yes, so glad for you and yours that the cancer gene was not passed along. Also so glad that your grandmother survived. While odds of survival are high these days, science back then certainly wasn’t what it is today.

  4. RM July 12, 2017 at 10:52 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this personal part of you with us… I am so grateful to hear you are well and your story truly touched my heart…

    • THE WORDY MOM July 13, 2017 at 9:25 am - Reply

      I am so thankful for this platform.

  5. Kristin July 13, 2017 at 2:57 am - Reply

    Beautifully written. I’ve also had this paranoia, to a lesser extent, about cancer. It runs in my family, and I just always had this dread when I’m normally not a worrier in any other aspect of life. It’s crazy the things we can think of once we become a parent. What was once this nagging fear in the back of my mind, can nearly send me into a full-blown breakdown now that I have kids. I’m so glad you are able to live without the fear you once had.

    • THE WORDY MOM July 13, 2017 at 9:23 am - Reply

      Thank you Kristin. You’re so right. Once you become a parent, even driving on the highway can become an ordeal.

  6. Kayla July 13, 2017 at 6:10 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story, So sorry to hear that you lost your mother at such a young age. I am glad to hear that you are able to live your life to the fullest and have such a positive outlook!

    • THE WORDY MOM July 13, 2017 at 9:22 am - Reply

      Thank you, Kayla.

  7. Ryan July 13, 2017 at 7:41 am - Reply

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. 103. Make it happen!

    • THE WORDY MOM July 13, 2017 at 9:21 am - Reply

      Thanks Ryan. If I don’t make 103, I’ll die trying!

  8. Dilraz July 13, 2017 at 9:28 am - Reply

    I cannot imagine how it would have been to live in your shoes. But one thing i can say is – you are incredibly strong and inspirational.
    Thank you for sharing this!

    • THE WORDY MOM July 13, 2017 at 9:52 am - Reply

      I’ve never known any other shoes, so I don’t really consider myself strong. Just rolling with what life presents. But if I can inspire, why I’ll take that gladly. Thank you for your kind words.

  9. April Kitchens July 13, 2017 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    Thank you for sharing such a touching story.

    • THE WORDY MOM July 13, 2017 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks for tuning in, April!

  10. Bethany July 13, 2017 at 8:55 pm - Reply

    An amazing journey and so brave to put it out there for the world. So powerful. Thank you for sharing.

    • THE WORDY MOM July 14, 2017 at 2:31 pm - Reply

      I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeves, Bethany. Thanks for listening : )

  11. Katie July 14, 2017 at 2:23 pm - Reply

    So sorry to hear about your experience and your mom. I’m glad you are able to stay positive throughout life’s challenges, and that you were spared from experiencing cancer.

    • THE WORDY MOM July 14, 2017 at 2:35 pm - Reply

      Positive thinking didn’t used to be my thing but fortunately I acquired optimism with age. Living my cup half full, always!

  12. Nikki July 15, 2017 at 3:35 am - Reply

    What a great story! I had a scare at the beginning of the year, a few weeks after my 30th birthday. I found a lump on accident while laying down (my great-grandma had breast cancer, so it had me worried). Schedule an appt with my OB, got referred for an ultrasound and mammogram. Had to come back again for a biopsy. It ended up being a Fibroadenoma, or benign tumor. However, the emotions I felt going through just that cannot be described. My main thought was what will happen to my son? It’s funny how it isn’t until our kid’s are in our lives until it makes living so much fuller. I wish you continued good health! Thank you for sharing your story!

    • THE WORDY MOM July 15, 2017 at 7:08 am - Reply

      Nikki, I can totally relate to that the anxiety you must have experienced. The waiting is often the worst part. I wish you continued good health, too x

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