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Helping Hands

by Mara Langer

Breast Cancer... the two words have always been a part of my vocabulary. They have been a part of my life and they have been a part of my world. My mother and grandmother both died from breast cancer, both too early in life. I have lived through what it means to have breast cancer. So in the back of my mind, I always knew it was something that might show its ugly head within my beloved body, the only problem was I didn't know when.

Because of my family history I began having mammograms at the age of 30. In addition, I had a consultation with an oncologist and we both agreed to delay genetic testing until after I had a family. In early 2004, I was blessed with the birth of our beautiful daughter. Shortly after I stopped breast feeding I went in for a mammogram. There it was, the cancer had arrived.

Interestingly, it was detected in the same breast (left), at the same age (36) as my mother's original diagnosis. Luckily, it was caught extremely early. My husband (my rock!) and I went through extensive opinions and research; ultimately I decided to have a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction, the DIEP flap. I was in surgery for 14 hours, with a 10 week recovery. My margins came back clear, and after much debate amongst the pathologists, it was decided that I did not need chemo or radiation. Although the genetic testing came back negative for BRAC1 or BRAC2, I believe I am a carrier of a gene that is yet to be discovered.

Yes, I am a poster child for early detection, and Yes, I am thankful every day.

But my story does not end there. Fast forward two years, and it is now October 2006. My husband and I just received word that the 12 week fetus I was carrying was healthy and viable. We were overjoyed with happiness. Becoming pregnant and having a second child was my primary goal throughout my breast cancer experience. One day in early October, at the questioning of my husband, I performed a Breast Self Exam to what was left of my breast tissue. As I was feeling about, tucked right under my left arm pit, just at the area where my new tissue meets my old tissue, was a small, round ‘thing'. To tell you I panicked is an understatement. Luckily I was able to see our local breast center radiologist immediately. She performed an ultrasound and biopsy on a Friday morning, and by Monday afternoon I was diagnosed with my second bout of breast cancer in three years.

Now the question of ‘what to do and when' became even more critical. First let me say that NONE of my doctors ever questioned the decision to skip Chemo and Radiation based on my original pathology. This was a new occurrence, and I was one of the lucky ones where it happens in the last 2% of breast tissue that is left over from a bilateral mastectomy.

Regardless, I needed to get it out and I need to start Chemo as soon as possible. After consulting with my previous team of doctors and bringing in a few new ones, we decided I would have the tumor removed and start A/C at week 22 of gestation. Yes, I was nervous and yes, I was scared. But I have always had faith... and faith is what has kept me going through out this whole journey.

Today (April 2007), I've finished two rounds of Taxol/Herceptin. We welcomed our baby boy, Ari Jonathan, on March 22, 2007 (we share the same birthday). It was a scheduled c-section, four weeks early, so that my treatments moved forward. He arrived with a full head of hair (more than me!), a good weight and powerful lungs. Radiation will begin in June 2007, and Herceptin will continue through April 2008. I know I still have a long road ahead of me, but each day (as I look at my children) is another accomplishment, and a blessing.

Again, I am a poster child for early detection and Self Breast Exams. And Yes, I am thankful everyday.

I cannot finish this note without mentioning ‘who' has gotten us through this journey. If it weren't for the amazing support of our family and friends, the network that has surrounded us, we NEVER would be able to face all this. My only hope is that I can pay forward their generosity and someday make the life of some else in need as meaningful as they have made mine.

Mara Berns Langer, lives in San Mateo, CA with her husband and two children. Being the only daughter of a breast cancer patient, she has always been passionate about Breast Cancer Awareness, and raising funds to help support breast cancer research. She is an advocate and resource to other young women who have been touched by this disease.