Looking back on her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, Pat Brady wishes that she could have told herself that she was stronger than she thought she was, to trust her strength and that she would make it through the treatments.
Just one year out from that diagnosis, Brady isn’t just a wife, mother and teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Sherman. She is a breast cancer survivor.
“Before, I would have considered myself an average person,” Brady, 53, said. “I got regular mammograms. I had been doing that annually since I was 40.”
Last year, when it came time to get the screening, Brady missed her first appointment and had put off rescheduling it for several months. She was even considering not having one done that year.
“I had the screening done and when they got the results in, they called me and said that I needed to come back for additional testing,” she said. “I was pretty surprised. I had another mammogram and an ultrasound. Then I was referred to an oncologist and a surgeon.”
The day she went in for the follow-up appointment, Brady was feeling alright. She and her husband had talked about what they would do if it was cancer. They made a plan for their family.
“Then my emotions changed,” she said. “It hit me emotionally.”
Brady was told that her lump — which could not be felt during a breast exam — was small and discovered early. She would just need a little radiation.
“Then I was told that I would need a mastectomy,” she said. “Then they came back and told me that I would need chemotherapy.”
The situation seemed to be getting more complicated and the treatment seemed to be getting more time-consuming, Brady said.
“They did a test to see if it would return, and I was told that it was aggressive,” she said.
Aside from looking at information about what to expect as far as treatment was concerned, Brady did not get on the internet.
“Early, I did not put it out there,” she said. “I told a few people. Then I got texts saying, ‘I talked to so and so…’ They did not mention it because they did not know if there were supposed to say that they knew.”
Brady decided to own the diagnosis via Facebook.
A friend gave her the book, “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book.” As each portion began to apply to her life, she read the section of the book on diagnosing breast problems, prevention and screening, breast cancer and decisions, and treatment. She stayed away from the parts about the disease returning.
She had chemotherapy for three months and then she took a break before 30 days of intensive radiation. From October through December last year, Brady was seen by her doctors weekly.
“I knew what to expect for the procedures,” Brady said. “To preserve the nails, you have to put your hands and toes in bowls of ice water so that you keep them. That was the worst part of it. If you do not do that, your nails could fall off just like the hair falls out.”
During her treatment, Brady did not have a lot of the adverse effects that she knew were possible. She did not throw up. She did experience bone pain and lost her hair.
“I was able to work part-time,” she said of her work days at St. Mary’s. “I would take off Thursday through Monday. Then during the weeks off from the chemo, I was able to work.”
There were other life changes that Brady went through.
“My son was 16, so navigating getting him to and from activities was a process,” she said. “My school helped so much. They sent meals and had a housekeeper come to my house. Without that, my family would have had a lot of takeout. I have a great church, community and friends.”
Initially, Brady said, it was hard for her to accept the help that others were willing to give.
“But I was so grateful,” she said. “I had friends that went through it before. I talked with them first. Then two women put me on to Women Rock.”
It was easier for Brady to talk to people that she did not know about what she was going through.
“I would call and say, ‘My hair hurts. Is it supposed to hurt?’” she said. “They said, ‘Yes. That means it is about the fall out, so you might want to go ahead and cut it off.’”
In January of 2018, the end was in sight.
About a month after Brady finished her intensive radiation, she went to the doctor for a mammogram and she continues to see her doctors, including her oncologist, every three months.
“Occasionally, I still have pain,” she said. “One of my breasts is bigger than the other. I get pain that just hurts sometimes. I have joint pain because of the radiation in my hips and other places.”
Still, Brady is glad that she rescheduled the mammogram in 2017 and got that diagnosis when she did.
“I couldn’t feel my tumor even knowing where it was,” she said. “It is important to do that screening and if you do get the same diagnosis, do not go down the rabbit hole. Do research, but do not go crazy.”
Knowing what she knows now, Brady’s best advice for the woman she was just one year ago is to take everything one step at a time.”
“It is really important to know that people cannot help you if they do not know what you need,” she said. “I can give people hope. Sharing my story may help someone know that it does not have to be the worst case scenario. You can do this because I have done it.”