Survivor Stories 2013:
Mary Anne Kochut
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
In both cases (2001 and 2012) it was as a result of a routine mammogram.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I guess I would have to say that I was shocked; the first time there was no history of breast cancer in the family, so it was completely unexpected and the second time I didn’t believe that it would happen again.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
The first time I had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and five years of hormonal therapy; two-and-a-half years taking tamoxifen and two-and-a-half years taking aromacin.
The second time I first had a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. Then I had a second mastectomy and the beginning of the reconstruction therapy, followed by two additional surgeries; one for the “exchange” procedure and another for a revision. So far I’ve have four operations in the past year-and-a-half and am currently scheduled for another surgery next month to deal with a capsular contraction as a result of the scar tissue. After that, hopefully there’ll only be one more.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
It seemed to take forever.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Stay positive and keep away from negativity. Keep a sense of humor and find things to do that make you laugh. I watched re-runs of The Golden Girls and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Also… and this is very important:
Get a second, third or even fourth opinion, ask lots of questions and take an active role in your treatment. When I received the first diagnosis, my doctor told me it was at “stage a” and that I probably wouldn’t need to have chemotherapy, but would need to have surgery and probably radiation. After the surgery, the surgeon told me that he had “gotten it all,” that it was at “stage a” and that I would not need to have chemotherapy but would only need
radiation treatments and hormonal treatments with tamoxifen for five years.
Upon consultation with the first medical oncologist I saw to get the prescriptions for the medication and radiation, a “red flag” went up for me when he was explaining the possible side effects, one of which could be uterine cancer. My mother had passed away the previous year from uterine and ovarian cancer and it didn’t make sense to me to take a drug that might possibly cause another type of cancer.
At that point I decided to ask for another opinion. I consulted with the medical oncologist who had treated my mother. He reassured me that this was not an issue of concern, and confirmed what the surgeon and other oncologist had told me. However, I still was not feeling comfortable with what I was being told and when I met with my general practitioner I asked her what she thought and she recommended another medical oncologist. I made an appointment to see him.
However, before that appointment I had the appointment for a consultation with the radiation oncologist at a large cancer center which was close to where I lived. I explained this situation to him and told him the names of the doctors I had seen and the other one who I had not seen yet. He told me that he didn’t know any of the doctors I had seen so far, however, he did “know” this other doctor and was not going to schedule any treatments for me until I saw him. At this point I had had four doctors, two of whom were medical oncologists, tell me the same thing, and was really expecting this third one to tell me the very same thing.
Upon the visit, I told him this entire story and I’ll never forget how he sat at the edge of the table where I was sitting, took both my hands, looked up at me and said, “Do you know you still have cancer and you need more surgery?” I felt like I was going to fall off the table as I babbled on about how “they told me they got it all.” His response was, “Well, apparently my esteemed colleagues in the medical oncology field never read your pathology report.” Then he showed me the report where it read that they got the entire tumor, however, there were still “non-invasive” cells in the margin areas.
I asked what I should do; did I need another surgeon? He reassured me and said: “I’ll talk to your surgeon,” and continued with if he didn’t respond to his satisfaction, he’d get me another surgeon. Then he what he said is a real cause of concern for anyone. He said, “And don’t worry about it, I make these kinds of calls all the time.”
Additionally, he said to me that he knew that I had been told that I only needed treatment radiation and tamoxifen and that he disagreed with that course of treatment. He went on to explain to me that, even though the tumor I had was small and was stage A cancer, it was poorly differentiated and he was concerned that cells could have migrated to other areas of the body. He felt that chemotherapy was necessary; however, it was up to me when it came to the treatment. At that point I asked him to be my doctor.
He spoke to the surgeon and a second lumpectomy was scheduled shortly afterwards. I had the chemotherapy and radiation treatments and I was cancer free for over ten years.
This man was my doctor for over ten years and literally saved my life.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
The first time I was cancer free for over ten years. This time it’s been about a year and ten months. I think it’s important to say here that I did not have a relapse of the cancer I had before. This was a completely different occurrence. In fact, my doctor explained to me that the type of cancer it was this time was proof that the treatment I had ten years earlier worked; because this time it was estrogen negative and the first time it was estrogen positive.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
The first time I was diagnosed I found out on September 11, 2001. It was a terrible day all around. However, I always felt that this was not a coincidence and helps me to keep things in perspective; the people who went to work that day thought they’d be going home at the end of the day – however they didn’t and I’m still here and I’m here for a purpose. It showed me that one never knows what’s going to happen in one day; that tomorrow is promised to no one and we need to make the best of every day we’re given.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
The diagnosis of cancer is not a death sentence. It’s important to ask all the right questions, be proactive and concentrate on the things where you have control. I realized that everyone is going to die one day from something. The real tragedy is the people who are walking around with a “pulse” and “breathing” but they’re already “dead” because they’re miserable. I think it’s more important to concentrate on life and living.
Mary Anne is an author, motivational speaker, coach, trainer and organization/management development professional who is skilled in group dynamics, consultation and facilitation. She specializes in the areas of leadership, communications and executive coaching, change management and career transition and has experience in the Financial Services, Telecommunications, public utilities, insurance, retail and healthcare industries, numerous government agencies, non-profit organizations and academia.
As someone who has always had a keen and sincere interest in the development of human resources, Mary Anne’s personal motto is “committed to the extraordinary.” As a result, she remains “in touch” with the most current and most provocative issues relative to American business today. She is a determined individual and is committed to giving any project she is involved with one hundred percent of her talents and energies. She thrives on being in front of groups of people as they experience their learning, growth and development. Her philosophy “learning should be fun” is successfully integrated into her personal and professional life.