Survivor Mary Waugaman, center, found comfort through a fishing program for survivors called Casting for Recovery. For more information, see this month’s Patient Advocacy tip!
Mary Waugaman, Indiana County
My mom had breast cancer in 1997 and her surgeon said, “When your daughter turns 35 I want her to get a baseline mammogram.” So two months before my 35th birthday in May 2006 my mom started nagging me. I scheduled the mammogram for July just to get her off my back. Luckily for me I turned 35 when I did and my mom kept nagging me because with that baseline mammogram I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.
I had a lumpectomy and lymph node dissection and then chemo and radiation. Then in 2008 I had a recurrence. The recurrence was estrogen positive so they suggested removing my ovaries, which I did in January 2009.
I found out that I was very strong. I hadn’t known that about myself. I remember before my first chemo treatment my dad saying, “It’s OK to be scared, honey.” But I wasn’t scared. I got very sick with the chemo but I knew what I had to do and I did it. When the recurrence happened, I didn’t think twice. I knew I had to have a mastectomy. I felt like breast cancer was coming back for me and I wanted to stop it. When my ovaries were removed I went into instant menopause. Of course then that meant I was unable to have children. Cancer took that from me too. I found myself getting depressed. You go through all the medical stuff and do what you have to do and then when it’s over you say, “what just happened?”.
My job as front office supervisor at Pediatric Alliance is two hours away from where I live so I don’t have a lot of spare time to connect with people and do therapeutic things for myself. But in 2012 I went to a Casting for Recovery retreat. That was the most amazing experience of my life. Casting for Recovery is a program that offers 2 ½ day fly fishing retreats for women with breast cancer. There were so many women with different stories and while no one’s experience was just like mine, each one could relate to one part of my story and vice versa. I got back into nature and found peace and quiet. That was the beginning of the healing of my mind and soul that I didn’t even realize were damaged. It brought me back to the person I was before breast cancer. I still stay in touch with those women.
My best advice for others is to be your own advocate. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s OK to get a second opinion. Talk to people, talk to your doctors, and don’t just do what you’re told unless you feel like you’re making the right decisions. And I share with them what someone told me … it’s OK to laugh and it’s OK to cry. As long as you have that little bit of laughter along with the crying.