Destrehan survivor advises self-exams

Marisa and Henry Myers of Destrehan with their children Rylin and Kagen.
Marisa and Henry Myers of Destrehan with their children Rylin and Kagen.

‘Cancer has always been in the back of my mind.”

Destrehan’s Marisa Myers says she has a new lease on life, but things could have been much different had she not made a point of self-examination and care.

Myers lost her father in 2009 after he battled lung cancer. Two of her aunts had their own fights, one against breast cancer and the other ovarian cancer. The mother-of-two felt because of this, she couldn’t afford to overlook any signs of her own health deteriorating.

“Cancer has always been in the back of my mind and something I’ve long been afraid of,” said Myers, 38.

She started noticing lumps and bumps in her breasts in 2013, along with a strange feeling similar to that she felt when breastfeeding her two children as infants. She has gone for mammograms and ultrasounds every two year along with her regular examinations.

Until September of last year, however, her health was deemed sound. After being asked a few questions during a checkup that month, it seemed it would be like all the others.

“(The doctor) said no worries, but then I mentioned some nipple pain I’d been having,” Myers said. “She set me up for a mammogram and ultrasound.”

When she went for the mammogram, she noticed more pictures than usual were being taken, which made her nervous. She soon learned there was something suspicious and needed to have a follow-up.

“The ironic thing was, because it was breast cancer awareness month, doctor’s appointments were tougher to come by,” Myers said. “I had a biopsy on Oct. 9 and then I had to wait for the call.”

She got it a few days later and her fears were confirmed. It was early stage breast cancer and she’d need surgery. In January, she underwent a double mastectomy to remove the cancer. Two weeks later, she learned the cancer had spread and she needed a second surgery to eliminate the danger.

But after going through that experience, she received positive news in that the surgery was successful and her cancer was gone. The stress has been reduced for now, but her fears have not yet been totally erased.

“The type of cancer I had (classified as triple negativ… where other women could have hormone treatments and things like that, I’ll never have that as an option,” Myers said. “So it’s still scary. I’m trying to stay positive for my kids and live a positive life, because I’m an example to them in how I cope with anxiety.”

She’s also trying to be an example for others who might be able to catch dangerous medical problems early through their own self-checks and awareness.

“I actually posted about it on Facebook because I know there’s a lot of women who aren’t doing their self-exams,” she said. “I even said husbands should ask their wives to do their self-checks. I know it made all the difference in the world for me. If I’d gone a different route, I would be having to take chemo right now.”

She added that while regular doctor’s examinations are critical, assuming a physician or anyone else will catch everything or anything that could be wrong would be a mistake.

“You have to take your medical care into your own hands as well,” she said. “If I didn’t mention nipple pain and just relied on my doctor to catch it, who knows where I’d be right now.”

A strong support system for Myers and her family has been a major boost for her as she battled through her adversity. Coworkers of hers posted a GoFundMe to help her cope with the costs of medical care, surgeries and missed time at work, while another friend held a fundraiser pool for the same reason — the person who won the pool donated the winnings to Myers.

“It’s amazing,” Myers said. “I knew as late in the year as this started that we’d be going into 2018 with medical costs, and with any medical condition, you’re going to have to go out of pocket even if you’re lucky enough to have medical insurance, with deductibles and co-pays. The first MRI was $1,500 at the get-go.”

She said the donations helped take her mind off of stressors outside of her illness and recovery—for example, Christmas was upcoming, while the birthdays of her 8 and 10-year-old children were in January and February respectively.

“You wonder if you can even give your child a birthday party … the last thing you want them to do is to have to suffer and not have as normal a life as possible when you’re going through this,” she said.

Meanwhile, she tried to return to work a week after her surgery before her co-worker revealed the GoFundMe page (titled Myers Family Medical Fund), which has raised a little more than $3,000.

“She showed me the page and asked me if I’d go home and get the rest I needed,” Myers said. “I was so afraid of the medical expenses and falling behind, I was ready to jump back in Monday through Friday because I thought there wasn’t another option. They were so great and my (employer) was great about giving me the time to recover.”

Myers teared up when recalling the support she’s received as a whole, from her dentist cooking meals for the family, to her neighbors taking it upon themselves to cut her grass and to a student at St. Charles Borromeo school asking her religion class to keep Myers in their prayers.

“I have a card with notes of all the Hail Mary’s they said,” she said. “It blesses my heart … We’ve had such strong support from the community and St. Charles Parish, it’s so overwhelming sometimes. People will stick up for you in ways you’d never expect.”

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