[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G. Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
[00:00:17] Welcome to the Komen Wellness Within podcast series where we’ll embark on a transformative journey together, exploring various dimensions of wellness tailored specifically for breast cancer patients. From physical and emotional health to nutrition, mindfulness, and self-care practices, we’ll delve into the most effective strategies and empowering stories that inspire resilience.
[00:00:40] A metastatic breast cancer diagnosis is difficult. You’re processing a lot of information and dealing with many emotions. You may feel overwhelmed and scared, but you are not alone. Today’s guest was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma 6 months after her mammogram came back clear. Before she could begin treatment, she learned her cancer had metastasized to her abdominal lining. It has been quite a road for Mary Randall over the past 2 years since her diagnosis and she is here today to share her tips for staying positive and adjusting to a new kind of normal in order to thrive. Mary, welcome to the show!
[00:01:21] I’m really looking forward to hearing your perspective in about your journey as well. I always love, you know, staying positive and thriving. So, but let’s start with you. Let, can you give our listeners an overview of your breast cancer experience and tell us about when you were first diagnosed and just kind of walk us through how things have been going since then.
[00:01:40] Mary Randall: I’d be happy to. Back at the end of 2020, I was getting ready for a New Year’s Eve party. I noticed that one of my breasts looked different than the others, and it was concerning. It was like four o’clock in the afternoon and my gynecologist office was just getting ready to close and I gave them a call and they said, we’ll stay here for you.
[00:02:01] And I drove down, it was an hour away. Drove down there, and my gynecologist just by looking at it and feeling it, knew that there was something very concerning about the mass in my breast. Because of it being a Friday and being New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t get in to get any screening for like four days.
[00:02:19] So that’s when the waiting game began. And you find when you’re sick and you have breast cancer, there’s a lot of that waiting game involved. So when I went in, I had an ultrasound done, I had an MRI and they decided, you know what? We need to do a biopsy. So that’s when the anxiety started. Like, okay, this thing is becoming real.
[00:02:40] And so, you know, wait a couple more days to get in for the biopsy, and they send it out and they find out that yes, it is cancer. And s it just stops you in your tracks. Just hearing those words just really makes you think like, this happens to other people. This does not happen to me. I’m healthy, I eat right.
[00:03:01] I exercise. It just didn’t seem to fit, but there we were. And so, I went to Dana-Farber. I said, you know what? I’m going to go to the best of the best. They’re known, you know, to be a great organization, especially for breast cancer. And I talked to a surgeon there and talked to oncologist there and talked to a plastic surgeon.
[00:03:21] And I put a plan together with their help to have a double mastectomy and to have reconstruction as well. And I felt better after I went there. I was in good hands, you know, there. Had some really wonderful people there and I went home. And I had for the past two months been suffering from this back pain and this abdominal pain. And didn’t think it was associated with any of this. But my sister convinced me, you know what?
[00:03:48] You probably should go see your general practitioner on those. And so I did and I went to see him and he said, you know what? I think you need to go have a CT scan of your abdomen. It just doesn’t feel right. There’s a hardness in there. So I went down and they did a CAT scan. And they said, we think you have appendicitis.
[00:04:05] We think that it might have burst. There is so much fluid in your abdomen right now that we can’t even get a picture of your appendix to tell what’s going on. So they took me into surgery and before I went in, I said to the physician, now this can’t be related to the breast cancer, can it? And he said, no, breast cancer does not spread to your abdomen.
[00:04:23] So I went into the surgery thinking that this is appendicitis, and I came out and found that the breast cancer had spread to my abdominal lining. And I was hospitalized for a couple of days and my new oncologist at Glens Falls Hospital, which is our local hospital, came in and said, we’re going to have to do chemo.
[00:04:43] And in my conversations that I had with Dana Farber, chemo was not part of the picture yet. They wanted to see how the surgery went and all this stuff. It just wasn’t. I tried not to even think about it because it was my worst fear, but here we were. It’s metastasized and guess what? You’re starting chemo and you’re starting tomorrow.
[00:05:02] And so things just really moved rapidly and the chemo that they put me on was pretty darn strong. I lost my hair pretty quickly, and lost 30 pounds, and just was really sick for the next three or four months. From there I progressed to other types of treatment. I went through a round of radiation.
[00:05:25] The cancer continued to spread. It spread to my bones and to my liver. And so I have had five different treatments so far in the two and a half years since I’ve been diagnosed. With each one. They’re a little different. Everyone has their own side effects. Own issues and own, you know, effectiveness as well.
[00:05:44] There’s some that I’ve been on for eight, nine months and others that I’ve been on two or three months. So, so there’s, you know, a lot of changes that come with that. During that period of time, I also went to Duke. Because they have a program there that they work with people who have cancer in their abdominal lining.
[00:06:04] And I was looking for, you know, you always feel like the doctors are missing something. Like, is there something that I can find that’s going to, like, they’re going to be so impressed they’re going to be, wow, how did you think of that? And it’s going to cure my cancer. You know, you just always hoping. So I went to Duke, went down there and they took a look at my records and everything and said that I was not a candidate.
[00:06:23] For what they did down there. So I came home and kind of checked that off as not an opportunity, but to this day, I continue to search and to go to conferences and to become as educated as I can to maybe find that silver bullet that somebody’s overlooked. And to see what, you know, what can be done for me right now.
[00:06:43] Currently I’m on IV chemo again. It’s called ENHERTU. I get it every three weeks. Been doing really well on it. Feel pretty good, minor side effects and the scans are looking like I’m pretty stable, so I’m in a pretty good spot right now.
[00:07:00] Adam Walker: Well, I’m glad to hear that. Glad you’re in a good spot and sounds like man, just quite the journey over the last two years and just lots, a lot to process there. Which I know we’re going to, we’re going to continue to unpack here. But first, I’m curious, do you have a, any family history of cancer or anything like that?
[00:07:16] Mary Randall: You know, my mom had cancer. But when we did the genetic testing mine didn’t come back to be a genetic type cancer, more of an environmental cancer.
[00:07:27] Adam Walker: Gotcha. Alright, so, so I know you’ve got metastatic cancer breast cancer. I know that. You originally were thinking it was not right and then it sort of became metastatic. Can you walk us through what was it like receiving that news? What were your emotions like during that time?
[00:07:47] Mary Randall: So when I found out that it was metastatic, it’s almost like going through the grief process. You start out with a lot of denial. And so I was that way for a long time and I was going to beat this. And you know, I just tried not to think about it because when I would go into Google it, which is the worst thing you can do. But it’s all you seem to do when something like that happens, the prognosis for somebody with cancer in their abdominal lining is really poor. Super poor.
[00:08:14] We’re talking months at least at what I was looking at. So I thought, you know, this is going downhill real fast. And because my friends and family were also Googling it, it was almost like, it was just, everything was so somber, you know? And it was just, you could feel it. There’s so much tension.
[00:08:33] But here I am, two and a half years later. You know, and so I’ve, you know, beaten a lot of odds, you know, and then after I got through that denial phase, I was pretty angry. And I think that I was angry at the whole situation, and I was getting angry, right or wrong, at how some people didn’t understand the situation.
[00:08:56] And I would hear comments like well, you’ll get over this. You know, a lot of people have cancer and, you know, they’ll get past it and stuff. Or one of my favorites is, well, we’re all going to die. You know, so it’s just you go through a, you don’t have patience, I would say with people and stuff like I used to.
[00:09:14] And I think part of that was the anger. And to be honest with you, I was depressed for a long time. But I think I’ve come out now with acceptance and I’m in a good spot, but it’s really like the grieving process. You’re grieving the loss of, you know, what you think you’re not going to have in the future.
[00:09:31] Adam Walker: Yeah. Wow. That’s tough. So can you talk a little bit about like how you’ve gotten through those tough times? I mean, you mentioned that you’ve sort of come through that. Do you have any specific things that you’ve done to help yourself get through that and who did you lean on during those times?
[00:09:46] Mary Randall: Yeah. I found support of my family and friends really important and very helpful. But it was almost like I needed to talk to people that really understood what was going on. It was kind of in the same circle. So I found that support groups were helpful. Going to conferences where you could, you know, be around people who have similar situations and hear what was going on in the medical environment.
[00:10:11] You know, mentors, there’s a mentoring program out there. Just talking to people that have been through it. And also some people would refer you like, my, my sister referred me to two people that had cancer. And just one-on-one talking to them on the phone. Those were the things that really helped me push through.
[00:10:28] And whenever I would fall into the victim mode, which is really easy to do when you’re sick, when you have a chronic illness, there’s some people that don’t fall in that victim mode and they’re so inspirational. They’re the ones that say, you know what? We can, you know, we can beat this or we can, you know, do this or that, and you’re just, you’re inspired by them. Those people make a huge difference.
[00:10:52] Adam Walker: Well, let’s talk more about those people. Like, I know some of the advice you have is to surround yourself with positive people and healthy resources. So could you talk a little bit more about that and what are some of the resources that you know for you that you can recommend to our listeners?
[00:11:07] Mary Randall: So I think that it’s important not to feel like you’re on an island. Which you can do easily and everybody has something that works for them. And so, for me, what worked for me is that I actually joined the American Cancer Society Mentoring Program and became a mentor for other people that had cancer.
[00:11:27] And I’m a life coach, so I had, you know, the skills to do that. And I also had the appreciation of having cancer. So that’s been a tremendous experience and I get as much from those mentees as I hope I give to them. I’ve also got involved in events. So like the Susan G Komen three day walk.
[00:11:49] We volunteer for that every year and are surrounded by people. A lot of positivity, a lot of good love there within that circle to do that every year. We also do a local event through the making strides against breast cancer that we do that. There was a event in Pittsburgh last year or Philadelphia called Living Beyond Breast Cancer, where folks that were metastatic will go to this conference and hear from oncologists and nutritionists and people like that.
[00:12:20] I can’t tell you what it’s like, you know, between that and the Susan G Komen event to feel like you’re part of a community and you’re not on that island. And that, you know, you’re fighting the fight alongside other people. So that’s kind of what, when I say surrounding yourself with positive people, I think it’s really important.
[00:12:38] Adam Walker: Yeah that sounds- seems to me like that would be a very uplifting experience. Like just to know that you’re not alone and to see this massive community that you’re a part of that are and you know, no, cancers are the same, but you’re still, you know, going through similar experiences, right?
[00:12:55] Mary Randall: Yes, absolutely. And, you know, you’ll find too that, you know, I talk about healthy resources. So, you know, the things that I do to help myself both mentally and physically is I do acupuncture. I go to the sauna. I do sound healing, do yoga. I go for oncology massages, and every one of those practitioners that I touch base with when I’m going to one of those treatments, they are so inspirational as well. I’ve received extreme support and understanding from them and find that very comforting.
[00:13:32] Adam Walker: That sounds I mean, sounds like you do a lot of things to really care for yourself. That’s kind of amazing. Are, you mentioned, I think you mentioned four or five. Is there any one that you’ve kind of been the most helpful to you?
[00:13:45] Mary Randall: Acupuncture for sure.
[00:13:46] Adam Walker: Really? Okay. Yeah, absolutely. I would not have expected that. I have a very ignorant perspective on that. I’ve never, I don’t know anything about it. So, why has it been helpful? Do you mind me asking?
[00:13:58] Mary Randall: Acupuncture, you know, you can go there and you know, you could be having pain. You could be having anxiety, could have all sorts of things going on, and you talk to the acupuncturist about it and by some type of magic, she puts those little needles in and you come out and you feel better. Great way to reduce anxiety as well.
[00:14:20] Adam Walker: Okay, that is that I feel like I’d be very anxious going, but I’m going to, I believe you on that. I’ll strongly consider it.
[00:14:26] So talk to us about volunteering and fundraising and how you feel that they are healthy practices for those that are diagnosed with cancer.
[00:14:35] Mary Randall: For me, in particular, I, you know, was a professional for, you know, 25 years in a leadership position. And so when that all stopped and I retired because of my illness. It’s hard to see where you’re adding value anymore. You know, your schedule is based on doctor’s appointments and treatments. And so I found that getting involved in the volunteer work, raising money for breast cancer research getting involved in different committees really helped me feel like I was starting to add value again, and that sometimes you feel powerless in this journey.
[00:15:13] You get some of that power back when you can do something that you think is helping the cause and helping other people, and that’s been a great experience.
[00:15:22] Adam Walker: Oh and I would imagine a part of it as well is that you’re still continuing to be a part of something larger than yourself, right? And so you’re contributing to something important. You’re a part of a community, you’re a part of something larger than yourself. It gives you to, to your point, you’re adding value, which is a great feeling.
[00:15:38] So Mary, this has been fantastic. Really appreciate having you on the show today. Do you have any final advice you’d like to share with our listeners?
[00:15:46] Mary Randall: I think my final advice is don’t go at this alone. Build your team. Your team of people that can help you from a medical standpoint, from an emotional standpoint. There’s so many resources out there. Some of them are not for everyone, but pick what meets your needs. And do what’s best for you. A lot of us have spent the majority of our years taking care of other people. Now’s your time and take advantage of those resources.
[00:16:11] Adam Walker: That’s right. And there are many resources available to you as well, so make sure to take advantage. That’s right. Well, Mary, thank you so much for joining us on the show today.
[00:16:19] Mary Randall: Thank you for having me, Adam.
[00:16:23] Adam Walker: Thank you for joining us for another episode of the Komen Wellness Within series. Together, we’ll embrace the power of wellness as a catalyst for healing, growth, and renewed vitality. Whether you’re a survivor or caregiver, Komen is here to uplift and guide you towards a future filled with strength, balance, and hope. Learn more about Komen’s MBC Impact Series and watch our wellness videos on //komen.org/mbcseries.
[00:16:58] Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G. Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.org and for more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out at Susan G. Komen on social media.I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter at ajwalker or on my blog adamjwalker.com.