Cancer. It is a word, a statement, a sentence. Cancer. When spoken it generates apprehensiveness, dread and panic. For those fortunate enough to put the word survivor next to it, a completely different set of emotions emerge. Posh Seven was fortunate enough to sit down with Mary Karen Meredith, a two-time breast cancer survivor. We learned of her journey from diagnosis to recovery. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We are grateful to Mary Karen for her willingness to share her story.
Mary Karen, romance writer and mother of two children, was 39 years old when she received her first breast cancer diagnosis. Her mother had lost her own battle with the deadly disease at exactly that age when Mary Karen was only seven years old. Now her own beautiful children Anya and Brody (18 months apart) would now spend part of that year being seven years old. It was a devastating diagnosis that seemed to mirror so closely the path that her mother had traveled. As Mary Karen geared up to begin her battle, she couldn’t help but worry about what the diagnosis coming at 39 with both of her children being 7 meant. Was it fate? A sign? It was during this struggle that Mary Karen received the best piece of advice, and it came from her husband Brian. “You can’t eat an elephant whole, you have to take it one bite at a time.” This advice proved invaluable for Mary Karen. She couldn’t make sense of everything all at once. She couldn’t figure out her entire battle right in that moment. She needed to take one bite at a time, one step at a time, and slowly begin her march to recovery.
Mary Karen’s tumor had been discovered early. It was a small tumor that had not spread to her lymph nodes, but with her mother’s history she decided to have a double mastectomy. The tumor was removed through surgery, and it was decided that radiation and chemotherapy were not needed. The doctors felt that the surgery and the hormone blocking drug, Tamoxifen, would be enough. And, for a while, it was. However, Mary Karen learned the important lesson of being your own advocate. She was concerned that though she had been placed on a hormone blocker, the doctors weren’t checking her hormone blood levels to insure the drug was working. She was being assured that she was fine. But deep down she felt like something was not right. Mary Karen finally insisted that they check her hormone levels and, though she was taking the drug, her levels were still dangerously high. Mary Karen also discovered a small lump in her breast. Though a double mastectomy had been performed, it only takes one cell for cancer to re-emerge. Unfortunately, it had done just that.
Mary Karen (MK) is once again beginning a battle she knows all too well. She has successfully had the small tumor removed and will soon begin radiation as a proactive measure. She sat down with Posh Seven to share the lessons she has learned and her advice to those currently battling the disease and their families and friends. This willingness to share demonstrates her strength.
PS “What was the biggest lesson you learned while fighting through your disease?”
MK: I had no idea how many doctors are involved. I dealt with an oncologist, radiologist, breast care specialist, plastic surgeon, and an oncology gynecologist.
PS “What was one of the biggest challenges you faced?”
MK: For me it goes back to my lesson learned. There are so many doctors and appointments. With my first diagnosis, I was working from home and had young children who needed to be cared for during my appointments. Now I work out of the house and have to schedule all my appointments while continuing to do my job.
Additionally, with the back and forth about checking my hormone levels with my doctors, I lost a little trust. I am trying to figure out the balance between trusting the doctors and making sure I am my own best advocate. It is so important when things don’t feel right to make sure your voice is heard and your questions resolved.
PS “What are some things people should avoid saying to a friend battling cancer?”
MK: I know people want to connect and support when they share stories about other cancer patients, and I really appreciate support and compassion in others. However, I wish people would refrain from sharing stories that result in negative outcomes. I am scared at times. I don’t need to be reminded of all the things that can go wrong or major complications that can result. I love when I hear stories of other survivors and people moving forward with happy endings.
Also, there are so many journeys available to cancer patients these days. There are conventional medicine and more and more holistic practices being offered. I love when people share different successful approaches they have taken to conquer this horrendous disease. However, as I make the decisions I feel are best for me and my family, it is hard to listen to people who want to tell me what I am doing wrong or what terrible decisions I have made. This journey is so personal and any support a person is willing to offer is fantastic, but criticism about the choices made aren’t helpful. It is a scary, difficult battle. Surrounding myself with positive energy and people has been so beneficial.
PS “In what ways is this second battle different from your first?”
MK: I felt more self-pity this second time. My survival instinct kicked right in the first time I was diagnosed. “I am going to beat this and not be beaten by this!” However, with this second diagnosis, I reacted with more fear. Why me?! I also realized that I have to let myself experience all my feelings. I work to really allow myself to be organically true to all my feelings. Which means, I need to have the moments of tears, doubts and sadness. Then I need to pick myself up and start “eating this huge elephant of a diagnosis, one big bite at a time.”
PS “What are the best ways for family and friends to help and support you during your battle?”
MK: Everyone is different. For me, it is hard to come up with things to ask someone to do for me. When I am asked, “What can I do?” My first response is, “We have got this.” So, personally, when someone just tells me what they are going to do, it is so much more helpful. “I am coming over to get your kids to practice.” “I am bringing you dinner. Tell me what day works best.” “I am at your front door with my vacuum. I am here to clean.” Those almost forceful approaches take away from my guilt of accepting help. I know people want to help, and I am trying to get better about accepting help and even coming up with lists of things I need.
Mary Karen is a peanut butter-obsessed warrior who brightens a room just by entering it. It was a pleasure sitting down and getting to know this romance author and cancer survivor. She explained to us that a “true” romance novel has to have a happy ending. MK Meredith’s current novel is Love on the Cape. You can find out more about all her novels by visiting www.mkmeredith.com. We love the happiness and joy Mary Karen shares with the world. When she says, “I will beat this and not be beaten by this,” we believe her. Thank you so much, Mary Karen, for the openness, honesty, strength and joy that you shared with our Posh Tribe.
HAIR & MAKE UP: KRISTEN SHEHADI OF GLOW STUDIOS ASHBURN
PHOTOGRAPHY: AYSE CHRISTO