Survivor Stories:
Britta Wilk McKenna

How did you first find out you had cancer?

My first symptom was bleeding from the nipple. The bleeding stopped then started up again a couple months later.  The second episode of bleeding triggered further.  The result was a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma or DCIS, stage 0 breast cancer.

How did you react when you heard the news?

My first reaction was a bit of disbelief in what was happening or what I was hearing.  Luckily, my son was with me and helped me bring the situation into focus.  We spent the next few hours googling DCIS, ductal carcinoma and breast cancer, reading sterile descriptions of the condition and avoiding blogs of botched breast reconstruction surgery.  The next day I walked into the American Cancer Society and immersed myself in every breast cancer pamphlet possible.

What course of treatment were you prescribed?

I was given two options:  A mastectomy, followed by a drug regimen to reduce risk of recurrence.  Or a lumpectomy, followed by radiation therapy and a prescribed drug regimen.  I selected mastectomy of my left breast, as there was no evidence to believe the right breast was affected.

What most surprised you about your treatment?

The amount of area my breast covered was larger than I realized once removed.  It covers the top of the clavicle, down to rib cage, over my sternum and under my armpit.  Any movement of my left arm or side was excruciating after surgery which led to a frozen shoulder.  This required six weeks of physical therapy. Subsequent reconstruction surgeries and breast expansion took a lot more time than I had planned, but the results were terrific!

What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?

First, take a deep breath.  It took years for your body to form billions of cancer cells and you don’t need to make any decisions at this very moment.

Second, browse around my website at Breast Cancer MyStory and try not to put yourself in “information overload” (easier said than done).

Third, start writing down your questions and take them in with you to your next doctor’s appointment to get answers.

Fourth, start a personal journal of how you are feeling and what you are feeling; you will be glad you did.

Fifth, find a friend who can be your “go to person.”  Someone whom you can fall apart in front of, cry, laugh and show your fear to without judgment.

How long have you been cancer free?

My mastectomy was performed in January 2011, so I will mark that as my date.

What lessons did you learn from the experience?

1. Be your own advocate. 2. Get answers to all your questions.  3. Don’t try to handle everything yourself.  4.  Get a second opinion, or even a third one and select the doctor you feel most comfortable with not just the one recommended to you.  5. Ask for help and receive help openly.  6. Visit your local cancer resource center and see what services they have to offer you. Meet other breast cancer survivors and listen to their stories and ask questions.

If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?

Be a solid role model for your family. As part of being that good role model, make healthy choices in your life, obtain or maintain your ideal weight, eat and drink responsibly, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, visit your doctors’ regularly and be aware of your body.


Britta Wilk McKenna, 51, is founder and president of the new non-profit, Breast Cancer MyStory and DCIS MyStory.  She was diagnosed with DCIS in December 2010 and underwent four surgeries and complete reconstruction after a left breast mastectomy.  Britta recently completed her MPA (Master of Public Administration) from Northern Illinois University, was an All-America Division I swimmer at the University of Minnesota and is heavily involved in her community of Batavia, Illinois.  Britta has been married to husband Steven for 28 years and has two sons, Kyle and Owen.


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