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by Kristen S '11

Breast Cancer Month, October: Ms. Mahaney’s Bout With Breast Cancer

Unlike most kids his age, Ms. Mahaney’s 4 year old son Quinn couldn’t wait to climb into the doctor’s chair.  Why did his mom get to go all the time? Well, truth was his mother had breast cancer.  In his mind, mommy has a “boo-boo,” one that had her going to the doctor’s every day.  This meant as much to him as it would any 4 year old boy, but to his mother it meant much more.  It meant her life and knowing her baby boy will have a mother.
Although it may come as a shock to most of us that one of our teachers has breast cancer, it is something that is in fact likely, as horrible as that is to say.  Breast cancer, the most diagnosed cancer in women excluding cancers found in the skin, is something very common that all people can relate to someway or another.  The odds of getting breast cancer are 1 in 8 if you are a woman.  Just keep in mind how many women teachers we have in our school.  Think of how many females you know.
Women need to get tested.  Ms. Mahaney, luckily, caught her cancer in time.  She spoke of how in some countries, the ages recommended are usually different than the United States, some being earlier or later.  England was one example she spoke of, who usually recommends that a woman goes for mammograms when they are around 50 years old.  “…yeah,” she joked, “that wouldn’t have worked out for me too well.”
Ms. Mahaney, being in her 40’s, went for her annual mammogram as prescribed by her doctor.  Going into the doctor’s office, thoughts ran through her mind. Though she realizes it is possible, almost no one thinks it could actually happen to them.  The tension caused by the anticipation to hear your results leaves you breathless.  When she was finally told she had a lump, she wasn’t sure what to think.  However, she recalls “one of the doctors saying ‘Good Luck!’ to me early on.  I was like ‘that’s it, I have cancer.’”
The thoughts that run through a personss mind when they hear this type of terrible news is not only indescribable, but impossible to understand.  When you hear the word cancer, you associate it with death.  Her immediate reaction was “I’m not ready to die.”  Thinking about the life at hand, she couldn’t help but think of her son, Quinn. Tears came to her eyes at the thought of it.   “Leaving my son without a mother, I just don’t want to think about it.” She took a deep breath, “It’s, its just disturbing to me.” There was a long silence when she finally whispered “that, that is upsetting,” as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
“Waiting was the hardest part.” When a person does have cancer, the prolonged process leaves you with question marks and a wandering mind.”  Although her son and her classes were very good distractions, it was on her mind a lot.  She, however, insisted on living her life rather than “obsessing” about it.
The entire process of treating the cancer started in October 2007, and her treatment wasn’t finished until May of 2008.  The doctors found, to Ms. Mahaneys “relief”, that she did not need chemotherapy, because it didn’t improve her condition in any way.  She instead had to do radiation and 2 surgeries.
Radiation is a process in which cancer cells are killed or shrunk by using high energy radiation.  It is preferred by most over chemotherapy, because it doesn’t have the same side effects.  Chemotherapy causes hair loss, nausea, and many others.  Surgeries are usually conducted with the goal of removing as much of the cancer as possible, along with checking if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.  In Ms. Mahaney’s case, it didn’t appear that the cancer had spread.
She had to go to radiation Monday through Friday for 7 weeks after work everyday.  In the meanwhile, she still had to juggle her job as a teacher and job as a mother.  When asked about radiation, she couldn’t help but let her true colors come out.  “Of course the math teacher in me – It’s totally fascinating.  It’s all about math.”  She spoke of the angles that were very precisely measured in order to treat the cancer and avoid radiating major parts of your body such as the heart or your lungs.  The machine itself is smart.
She said, she’s developed “a newfound respect for medicine.”  She saw a change in her son’s perspective also.  “In the list of things that he wanted to be, it was always train conductor, subway worker.  After all of this, he added in doctor to the list.”
The surgeries that she went through were “in and out.” She stated that during the surgery, she and the doctor were “talking about movies.  I thought to myself, “Shouldn’t this be more serious?””  The doctors did a good job, and left her with little to worry about.  She went into surgery on Fridays during the school year, and claims to have felt “good enough on Saturday to go to work if I had to.”
The most important thing to remember now is that Ms. Mahaney is fine.  Through telling her story, she wishes not to get pity, but to set an example for others who will also have to face this type of hardship.  She hopes, if any students have to hear this horrible news about one of their loved ones, that they can look at her story and say “hey, I had that teacher who had cancer, and she only missed two days of work.”   It seems unrealistic when you realize how many people in the world have breast cancer.  2.4 million women living in the U.S. have been diagnosed.  She wants us all to realize that we aren’t alone.  She found that staying positive is essential to living.  “It’s just healthy for you.  Stress physically impacts you.”
Now, Ms. Mahaney still goes to a lot of doctors regularly to make sure she is cancer free.  She jokes that the doctor list is an “exponential function.  Every doctor recommends a couple of more to get checked for something else, ‘just in case.’”
If she got anything out of this, she thinks that it is her true admiration of the time she has on this earth.  From having cancer, she realized how precious her life really is.  She claims to “never look forward to Fridays, even if it’s the beginning of the week,” simply because it’s important to appreciate the time we are living in now.  There is no reason to look forward to the future when you can make the most out of the present.

By Mr. Lakhaney

TOK Teacher

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