“I was lucky that I was diagnosed so early.”
Six-year survivor Libby had always been practical when it came to managing her risk for breast cancer. Several of her family members (including aunts, a cousin and her sister) had been diagnosed, so she knew she needed to be vigilant.
In addition to regular screening mammograms, Libby also had a BRCA gene test performed to determine if she carried an inherited mutation that would further increase her risk. “I knew I fit the profile, so I wanted to be proactive,” stated Libby.
Although her genetic testing came back negative, those results proved to offer no protection. In 2010, her radiologist found an area of suspicion during a routine mammogram at Southtowns Radiology. “A friend actually performed my mammogram,” Libby recalled. “She was so sweet when she told me they needed more images, but I figured there was a problem. Thankfully, they caught it early so I didn’t need radiation or chemotherapy.”
After careful consideration, Libby chose the most radical treatment option: a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. “I had breast cancer. All I wanted to know was what to do so that I could move on,” she said. “I opted for a bilateral mastectomy, because it gave me a 99% chance of being cured.”
Unfortunately, Libby’s body rejected the implants that were part of her reconstruction – and they had to be removed. But while some would’ve been devastated, she remained extremely positive. “Reconstruction is a very personal choice,” Libby declared. “It’s up to each woman to decide what makes her feel best.”
Throughout her recovery, Libby stayed strong by becoming active volunteer, fundraiser and organizer for several organizations including the American Cancer Society and the Susan G. Komen Foundation. “I did it to take the focus off myself and put it someplace productive,” Libby stated.
Libby considers herself extremely fortunate to have been diagnosed so early, and she’s found a silver lining to becoming a cancer survivor. “At first, I didn’t really talk about my cancer – my co-workers didn’t even know why I took off work,” she reflects. “Once I got involved with my volunteer work, though, I started to become more comfortable talking about it. People started approaching me wanting to share their stories. In the process, I realized that I can be a real support for others – it’s sometimes hard for patients and survivors to open up to their families.
“Cancer has made me more eager to live, and I welcome new experiences,” she continued. “I kind of let more things roll off my back now – little things aren’t that important. What is important is being with my family and friends. They mean everything to me.”
When asked about the advice she’d give to others regarding breast cancer, Libby offered the following: “The minute a girl becomes a woman, she needs to talk to her family doctor and needs to be 100% responsible for her body,” Libby said. “I’d also tell people that just because you have a breast cancer gene, it’s not a death sentence. It’s knowledge you can use to be proactive.”