The Edmond Sun
Sarah McLean was an active, newly married, 25-year-old with no family history of health issues before her diagnosis of breast cancer.
“My husband and I were active and fairly healthy and we had a lifetime ahead of us to conquer the world,” McLean said.
She had been doing self-exams since she was 20 because she wanted to know what her tissue felt like in the event there were any changes she would be able to recognize them.
“In 2002 I found a lump while doing a self-exam,” McLean said. “I was only 25 at the time. When I found it I was in disbelief. I was so young with no family history and no children yet.”
The prognosis was very good the first time. McLean was Stage 1, and with surgery the doctor felt confident she would be fine and go on to live a long and healthy life.
“At first I had a lumpectomy,” McLean said. “However, the doctor advised the cancer had already started to spread, so I had to go back into surgery the next week to have a double mastectomy. Thankfully I didn’t have to do any further treatments. The doctor advised I should have regular check-ups and continue to do my self-exams.”
With a 2 percent chance of recurrence, McLean said she continued to do self-exams.
“At first you do what you have to do to get through the process. Your body naturally goes into a survival state. Afterwards, I had a very hard time with self-image, depression and intimate issues. It took me a long time to get to a place of inner healing.”
After eight years and a double mastectomy, McLean still continued to do self-exams because she knew there was still a small percentage the cancer could recur. She found the second lump on her skeletal wall while doing a self-exam last year. The second time she was diagnosed she said it was surreal.
“I felt like I was having deja-vu,” McLean said. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I thought … here we go again. I was pretty numb the first couple of days, then I got angry. It’s natural for cancer patients to go through a grieving process. Since I had already experienced this once I was able to recognize the emotional ups and downs and give myself the grace to work through the stages in my own way and in my own time.”
The prognosis the second time was good; McLean was Stage 2.
“Since I had a double-mastectomy and reconstruction the doctor was careful to remove the second lump in order to preserve my implants,” McLean said. “I had 40 treatments of radiation therapy followed by hormonal therapy. It was a painful and tiring process. I had third degree burns. Plus I had two children now, so it was challenging to keep up with daily responsibilities since the treatments made me very tired.”
McLean was diagnosed both times at the Oklahoma Breast Care Center (OBCC).
“The medical staff including the surgeons, imaging centers, nurses and oncologists were all very kind during both experiences,” McLean said.
“This has not been an easy road for me. It’s taken me a lot of pain, frustration, anger and intentional effort to get to a healthy place. At first I had no clue how to work through the emotional roller coaster.
McLean said her husband was a great support and relentless in his effort to help her find someone she could talk with.
“Since I was so young I didn’t know anyone at the time that had experienced something similar.
The counselor McLean and her husband found was a survivor too.
“She was like a breath of fresh air,” Sarah said. “For the first time I saw a glimmer of hope. Each survivor goes through their own unique and significant experience. Every person needs the grace and room to work through their own struggles in their own way. Unless you’ve experienced cancer personally you’ll never really understand the ups and downs of this terrible disease. Thankfully my husband encouraged me to see a counselor. That was the best thing I could’ve done. She helped me to grieve and understand I wasn’t alone.”
McLean added once she got to a place of peace she decided she wanted to come alongside other women going through the same battle. ‘
“I wanted to bring awareness and education to the emotional struggles cancer brings. In an effort to bridge this gap I started a non-profit organization called, Project3One, dedicated to the emotional restoration and healing of survivors as well as their families.”
McLean said after her first diagnosis she started a support group at the OBCC because she wanted to create an environment of hope and encouragement.
“Since our inception we’ve continually offered an uplifting place for survivors and their spouses to be a part of a supportive community,” McLean added.
Currently, Sarah is cancer free and taking a hormonal therapy called Tamoxifen for the next five years.
“Since the tumor was estrogen induced the medication is an estrogen blocker to prevent another recurrence,” she said. “I have a 40 percent chance of recurrence if I don’t take the Tamoxifen. However, if I take the medication for the next five years my chance of recurrence will be reduced to a 25 percent chance.
“It’s not very encouraging, but I’ve come to a place where I know I can’t live my life in fear and worry. I choose to walk in faith. I’m treasuring every day and living my life with an eternal purpose.”
To read McLean’s complete story go to www.project3one.org.
McLean’s advice for others facing similar symptoms/diagnosis includes:
• Early detection is the best prevention, so do your self-exams regularly.
• Trust yourself. You must be your own advocate when it comes to your health.
• Give yourself grace. Allow yourself to grieve. Each person works through things in different ways. Your way won’t look like anyone else.
• Talk to another survivor. Get involved in a supportive community for the sake of healing … not pity.
• We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, so treasure each day and live your life to the fullest.
• Love your loved ones with your whole heart.