With an extensive history of cancer in her family, Mary Studley felt prepared for a diagnosis. She was in yearly surveillance for 10 years before she was diagnosed in the fall of 2005. Her annual mammogram was clear though she felt a lump in her breast just 5 months later. Although she was assured by her doctors she had nothing to worry about, Mary pressed them for further tests. Shortly after receiving a biopsy, Mary was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
Mary’s form was HER 2 positive and ER negative, which meant it was an aggressive type and she was likely to see reoccurrences.
At the time of her diagnosis, Mary was a photo editor for Time
magazine and a single mom to Louis, a high functioning autistic nine-year-old. She immediately began chemotherapy before surgery where, due to her family history, Mary opted for a double prophylactic mastectomy, though she only had cancer in one breast. She also says she opted for this treatment decision because she didn’t have confidence in her ability to detect this aggressive breast cancer on her own, despite her vigilant efforts throughout her adulthood.
Early in her treatment, Mary informed her son’s school about her breast cancer diagnosis. Mary says they have a very close relationship and his vice-principal was worried about him throughout this process, and suggested a special therapeutic program where they would both benefit from counseling and support. Through her research, Mary found the Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana. Although she says many things in their lives were changing, their weekly routine at this affiliate was a constant and calming addition to their schedule. Mary and her son attended regular counseling, cooking classes, holiday celebrations and art workshops. Louis also attended Kids Connect, a program that uses play therapy to help children express their feelings, with their peers, about their parent’s cancer diagnosis. Mary has been in remission now for almost five years and attributes part of her success to her time at CSC.
“The Cancer Support Community was as big of a part of my medical team as my oncologists. They always understood what was coming up next for me, and served as a great navigator. I found life-long friends there that I still see regularly. It was so warm and inviting, it really felt like home to us”.
Although cleared of cancer, Mary still struggles with rare and serious side effects from her treatment. Her physical therapist recently presented her complex case at a national conference. Despite her continued struggles, Mary hasn’t slowed down and has become an advocate for the Cancer Support Community (CSC). Today, Mary volunteers, helps with fundraising events and has become a media spokesperson for CSC Central Indiana, and couldn’t be happier about giving back.
“They have an understanding of what’s going on with you, without you even having to tell them. The community has become a safe place for Louis and I, for whatever emotion; celebrating, breaking down or just sharing. When you’ve passed another check-up, people say congratulations, but CSC really knows what it means and how important it is to you. It makes me really happy to be able to give back”.
Her work in the cancer community has even extended beyond CSC. In recent years, Mary has studied with Indiana University’s Center for Excellence Grant where she’s joined the Research Advocacy Network. Through her work with the program, Mary has participated in grant reviews, focus groups for clinical trials, sat on panel discussions, presented at professional advisory board meetings and lobbied on behalf of breast cancer and environmental issues. She also serves as a peer to peer counselor with the Young Survival Coalition. Her experience with cancer and her drive to give back to the cancer community has also inspired a career change for Mary, who now works with low-income, urban schools.
“I’ve always had a drive to do what I deem valuable work, but I had done it more in the volunteer realm. Cancer has really focused my give-back spirit. I could’ve kept my job at Time
and before cancer I might’ve, but now I’ve had a complete recalibration of my career and my life because of the disease. Everything has to be worth it now, which came out of my cancer journey.”
In addition to all of her volunteer work with CSC and the cancer community, Mary decided to share her experience with breast cancer through joining The Breast Cancer M.A.P. (Mind Affects Physical) Project
“I wanted to give back and share my experience, in the hopes of helping others. I also felt as though the project would help me learn more about breast cancer” Mary joined the M.A.P. Project
to help make a difference for the millions of women who are affected by the disease.
The M.A.P. Project
is a movement to identify and address the emotional and social needs that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis. By joining this first-of-its-kind registry and sharing their breast cancer experience, women have a unique opportunity to help researchers better understand the full impact of breast cancer and ultimately discover innovative ways to improve the cancer journey for millions. Initiated by the Cancer Support Community’s Cancer Survivorship Research and Training Institute, the M.A.P. Project
is made possible through a generous grant from The Breast Cancer Fund of National Philanthropic Trust. For more information or to join the movement, visit the Breast Cancer Registry
The Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana offers support and networking groups, education workshops, health and lifestyle classes and social activities. To learn more about CSC Central Indiana and their free programs, visit Cancer Support Community Central Indiana
or to find a Cancer Support Community affiliate near you, click here