Survivor Spotlight: Marie Mulvenna

My diagnosis

My breast cancer journey began unexpectedly when I hit my head and experienced ringing in my ear. At age 50, I decided it best to get checked out and visited my primary doctor, who deemed me high-risk due to not having a mammogram for four years. I had had a breast biopsy 14 years ago and left with a clamped area to watch and monitor yearly. While waiting for my mammogram, something happened: I opened my phone to social media and saw a picture of my late Aunt Penny, who had passed away 28 years ago from breast cancer. Seeing her photo after 26 years was a surreal moment. Her son shared the picture for her birthday the day before.

The mammogram revealed breast cancer, leaving me with mixed emotions.

As I awaited biopsy results, I felt my mother’s presence. She passed 13 years ago from lung cancer. After learning I officially had carcinoma, I contemplated my options. Despite initial recommendations, I opted for a double mastectomy to alleviate the constant fear and anxiety associated with frequent mammograms. Through this journey, I’ve discovered so many blessings and valuable insights.

A strong family history

I am number 5 on my mothers side and number 3 on my father’s side to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Before my diagnosis, cancer alone significantly impacted my life. My mother died from lung cancer, my father is a survivor of bladder cancer, and my baby cousin, Beth, is facing stage 4 metastatic breast cancer as I type this.

My first genetic testing appointment is in February. Learning that breast cancer can have genetic components made me realize I might be at risk. My family members chose to keep our genetics in the same medical record database at the University of Pennsylvania so it is available for research and studies.

A opens in a new windownew Pennsylvania state law for no-cost genetic testing is beginning to take effect. If you are considered at high risk for hereditary cancers like breast cancer and are insured under PA law, opens in a new windowclick here to learn more about Act 1 and when your coverage begins.

Finding support

Throughout my diagnosis and treatment, I found immense support from my faith in God and the Bethel Baptist Church community. Every Sunday, even when I streamed from home, the church members would offer heartwarming gestures, checking in on me and offering assistance when I needed it. I strongly believe God kept me around for a reason, and now I’m driven to spread the importance of early detection, especially getting regular mammograms.

Marie received a free opens in a new windowFriends Like opens in a new windowMe care package from the PA Breast Cancer Coalition. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, opens in a new windowclick here to request one. 

My biggest challenges

One of the biggest challenges I faced was dealing with the devastating reality that my cousin Beth, someone I deeply love, Is battling metastatic breast cancer. The contrast between our outcomes was a constant reminder of life’s fragility. Adjusting to the idea that my experience was not as severe as my cousin’s was a constant mental battle. Despite being a survivor, empathizing with her struggles made me downplay the significance of my journey. These situations tested my emotional strength. Her daughters, Olivia and Abigail, stood by their mother’s side with such strength and humility! I know Beth doesn’t like to lose at anything and she is definitely not going to lose to breast cancer and miss her girls’ milestones in life.

I myself have adult children along with a 15-year-old son Jacob. I was blessed enough to have an amazing father for my children and, despite our separation, he did everything in his power to protect my youngest from being affected by my diagnosis.

“Breast cancer has taught me…”

Breast cancer taught me that everything I consume, including food and drinks, significantly impacts my overall wellbeing and skin health. I’ve learned that a balanced diet rich in nutrients can positively influence my healing journey. By making informed choices about what I put into my body, I can actively contribute to enhancing my health and supporting my recovery. This understanding has become an essential aspect of my healing process.

My message to other women

I want other women to know that early detection through consistent mammograms is crucial – it truly saves lives. Make it a habit to prioritize your health with annual mammograms, starting early, especially if you’re under 45, as the risks for more severe cases are higher for that age group.

It’s crucial to break the misconception that breast cancer only affects older women. I urge doctors and insurance companies to emphasize the need for yearly screenings, so we can detect cancer early and save lives. Together, we can create a future where our daughters and younger generations can live without the fear of breast cancer. Let’s empower them with knowledge and support, so they can prioritize their health and fight this battle with us by their side.