Every October, people come together to raise awareness for breast cancer and show support for women’s health.
This October, Maureen Lawson, our talent acquisition lead and a survivor of breast cancer, shared her story with us to educate our team on preventative measures and motivate our community that it’s possible to beat cancer.
When were you diagnosed and at what stage of breast cancer?
I was diagnosed young, at just 39, with stage 2A breast cancer, but the really disappointing part of the story is that I could have been diagnosed several years earlier, had my doctor performed the correct tests.
Cancer can be an unpredictable animal, especially when you are diagnosed at a younger age. I underwent chemotherapy and active treatment for 15 months. It really affects every part of you, inside and out, every function of your body. You are looking out your eyeballs, but everything inside feels different.
Sometimes you can’t focus due to “chemo-brain,” or you get weird cravings – it affects your heart, skin, nails, bones, everything. Some of these issues I still have today – it never leaves you. Thankfully in my case, targeted therapies like chemotherapy and other treatments worked on my cancer.
Why are you sharing your story?
Before diagnosis, I didn’t receive the right tests I needed. If I had, I could have been diagnosed years earlier. Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common occurrence - many young women are told “you’re too young for cancer,” “it’s nothing,” “you have no family history,” and if they’re nursing, they’re commonly told “you have a clogged milk duct.”
I sit here at work and I see my peers walking around, and I think with all of the people that we work with, the chances of someone being diagnosed with cancer is there. I’m compelled to get the word out there about the misinformation and lack of information. I also want them to know that they can deal with it and get through it and survive, that their family member or friend can deal with it and survive – and still be here 10 years later. I hope that my story will help them or someone in their circles get through it.
I was lucky to have an amazing support system around me when I went through cancer.
What are some of the preventative measures you can take?
When you’re under 40, it’s imperative that you conduct self breast exams monthly to look for any changes. If you can, arm yourself with your own medical history, ask your family: parents, aunts, grandparents, siblings. If you’re younger, and you know you have the BRCA gene, you could be more susceptible and take action against that.
No matter your age, If you ever find a lump or change in your breast skin, you need to push for tests from your doctor and get to the bottom of it. It’s important to be proactive about prevention and ask questions and to advocate for yourself. If you need help, ask a friend or relative to go with you to take notes and be a second ear.
What are the type of questions you should ask doctors?
In my case, when my doctor felt a lump, she said it was nothing, just a fibroadenoma, which is common in younger women, so she suggested we keep an eye on it. I’m a question asker, and I did my research, and still I didn’t receive the right tests I needed.
As soon as I learned my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I was sent for a baseline mammogram and ultrasound and then a biopsy. You need to get specific tests and investigate with mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy – it’s the only way to find out if the lump is cancerous or not.
Follow-up is important here. Are there certain types of cancerous cells in the biopsy? Are there further tests or biopsies to help determine my course of my treatment? Should I get a second opinion? What’s the best treatment facility for my type of cancer?
How did you deal with cancer?
People who are diagnosed with cancer handle it in different ways - it’s an individual choice. I dealt with my own cancer out and in the open. I try to be positive and have a sense of humor about everything, and cancer was no different.
While I’m an introvert and keep most of my personal life to myself, I am compelled to be open about my breast cancer survival story. It helps to understand how you can help others during treatment and be supportive. In the talks I do, I find that some people get emotional because they hear I went through cancer, or their family member or friend went through this.
If I can help one person within the doors of Acquia and they help transfer that information beyond, I feel like I’m making a positive impact. Most people feel helpless when it comes to cancer – you don’t have a choice about the diagnosis nor much of a choice in treatment. – Maureen Lawson, Acquia
How does it feel to speak with a family of people you work with?
I was glad to be given the opportunity to speak with the group in an open forum and am appreciative that there was support for my wish to do so. The positive feedback was overwhelming; we’re creating a community within a community.
If I can help one person within the doors of Acquia and they help transfer that information beyond, I feel like I’m making a positive impact. Most people feel helpless when it comes to cancer – you don’t have a choice about the diagnosis nor much of a choice in treatment.
The one thing you have control over is your attitude and what you do with the information provided to you. Being an advocate for awareness is very important to me – I’m glad we are doing something about it.
For preventative resources, please visit http://www.dana-farber.org/cancer-genetics-and-prevention/breast-and-ova... or http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam. If you or someone you know is going through cancer, http://www.breastcancer.org/ and http://www.lbbc.org/ offer information and support.
The sessions Maureen presented to our team helped surface questions and discussion. You can watch one of them below: