The beginning of the 2015 school year started like any other for first-grade teacher Marilyn Bowman. But during all the preparation and excitement in meeting her new students at Mooresville Christian Academy, she had a nagging concern.
Marilyn had started to experience breast pain during the summer break, about two weeks before she was to have a mammogram. She hadn’t been regular in getting screening mammograms, the 49-year-old admitted, but hardly anyone in her family had had cancer, so she didn’t think she was at a high risk for breast cancer.
The mammogram revealed a suspicious mass in her left breast. An ultrasound and biopsy confirmed the unwelcome news of a malignant tumor. The final diagnosis: Stage 3C breast cancer. In addition to the first detected mass, the cancer had traveled to other areas of the breasts and to the lymph nodes.
The school year suddenly turned upside down for Marilyn, just after one week of classes.
“Most breast cancers are found in women 50 and older,” said Erika Rager, MD, breast surgeon with Franciscan Physician Network Breast & Melanoma Specialists. “But about one in 10 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women age 45 and younger. Many of the women who fall into this category may have a family history of breast cancer, but not all.”
The advanced diagnosis required advanced treatment. Marilyn first needed surgery, a bilateral mastectomy, to remove both breasts and affected lymph nodes. Six weeks of radiation and 20 weeks of chemotherapy followed. She had her surgery at Franciscan Health Indianapolis, but she received the rest of her care closer to home at the Franciscan Health Mooresville hospital.
All the while, she felt the support of her students and colleagues. The children sent her gifts and cards, and families, other teachers and school administrators sent care baskets and notes. She discovered that someone at the school had had breast cancer as well, and this was a gift in itself.
“Being able to talk to someone who’s been through this—to talk about the back pain, the chemo pain—was so reassuring,” said Marilyn.
Marilyn credits her medical team, both physicians and nursing staff, with providing not only physical and medical care but emotional support as well.
After taking off the full school year after her surgeries and treatments, Marilyn returned to teaching. But she soon realized that re-entering her life as a recent cancer survivor was going to be harder than she thought as she struggled with fatigue and emotional ups and downs.
Moving Beyond Cancer
“Once a cancer patient completes their medical care, life just doesn’t get back to normal,” said Kim Ziner, PhD, RN, co-developer of the Moving Beyond program offered to cancer patients and their family caregivers. “There is physical, emotional, financial and spiritual work to be done for the best recovery.”
Once she enrolled in Moving Beyond, Marilyn knew she was again in the right place for her continuing care. Local experts covered a range of topics during each session, including exercise, nutrition, mental health, spiritual care and finances. She was especially grateful for the presence of a lifestyle coach and personal trainer who led the group in simple exercises during a part of each meeting.
“The best thing I ever did was to drive to Greenwood for those classes,” she said.
After going through a time that tested her in so many ways, Marilyn knows she has been uplifted by so many in her community and her circle of caregivers.
“Everything is possible when you have the right support, and Franciscan Health was the right support for me,” she said. It’s also encouraged her to offer the same support to others facing cancer and starting their own hard journeys. “My experience has made me want to reach out to others going through the same thing,” she said. “There nothing like hearing that voice saying, ‘I’ve been there.’”
A gift to the Moving Beyond Program allows us to help people, like Marilyn, on their wellness journey and throughout recovery – teaching them to never give up.