In 2014, Marlo Matthews’ doctor felt something in her breast. She had a mammogram, followed by an ultrasound and two biopsies. “I had stage 3 triple negative breast cancer and it had spread to some lymph nodes,” Marlo said. “Because of that, they wanted to do chemo before surgery.” Her treatment, which lasted a year, also included a lumpectomy and radiation therapy.
During the next several years, each time Marlo had a mammogram or an MRI, she felt anxious. “I had a couple of scares in 2015, but it was never cancer,” she said. “And as the years progressed, my doctor would say ‘five years out is great, now six years out is great.’”
Then, seven years after her initial diagnosis, a small spot was found during Marlo’s routine mammogram. “When they said there was something there, I wasn’t completely surprised, because over the years I had biopsies on other areas that ended up being calcifications, so it was not normal, but I wasn’t overly concerned.”
This time, there was cause for concern: a biopsy confirmed it was the same type of breast cancer but stage 1. “Because of its placement and how small it was, we probably wouldn’t have felt it,” Marlo said. “I’m lucky that the mammogram detected it.”
Midway through chemotherapy, Marlo developed an allergy to carboplatin, one of the drugs. Her care team figured out a way for her to continue the drug, through a process called desensitization.
“Instead of going in for a three-hour visit, now I was going in for a 10-hour visit. The chemo was slowly dripped through the line, so it took so much longer,” she said. “But I was able to finish all 12 rounds.”
While Marlo knew what to expect from chemotherapy, since she’d had it in 2014, this time around was harder. “I was seven years older. My white blood cells are low regularly, even more so with the chemo,” she explained. “I had several blood transfusions. There were more delays the second time, more complications.”
Once chemotherapy was complete, Marlo’s care team recommended a partial mastectomy, but she opted to undergo a bilateral mastectomy and her surgeon did a DIEP flap reconstruction. “I was nervous about the mastectomy, since initially I had a lumpectomy. Whereas I had one drain with the lumpectomy, this time I had four drains,” she said. “This surgery was long, over eight hours, and I was out of work for eight weeks. It was a really hard time.” Once she recovered from her surgery, she had a year of immunotherapy, which was not an option in 2014 when she was first diagnosed.
In 2014, Marlo’s two daughters were too young to really understand what was going on. “We didn’t really say the word ‘cancer,’” she said. When Marlo received her second diagnosis, she and her husband sat the girls down and explained what was happening to them. “They’re 15 and 11 now, so they’ve been great supports – helpful around the house, understanding of the times I’m too tired,” Marlo said. “I won’t say breast cancer is the worst thing ever. It’s been hard, it’s been difficult, but I did it. I got through it.”