Young breast cancer survivor finds love, light after a lump

10:22 AM, Oct 24, 2019
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Miranda MacKay was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 35 years old. A healthy woman with no risk factors or family history, she conquered three surgeries, 16 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, countless needle sticks and a gamut of side effects over the course of a year.

Through it all, she kept a positive attitude. “I vowed to live my life to the absolute fullest and keep saying ‘yes’ to the things that scare me,” said Miranda.

A career change and a cancer diagnosis

Deciding she needed more balance in her life, Miranda left a high-stress job with long hours in 2018 to start yoga teacher certification.

After her very first yoga instructor training session, Miranda felt a lump in the shower.

Miranda’s primary care physician sent her for a mammogram and ultrasound at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital. A biopsy was taken the same day, with a cancer diagnosis confirmed a day later. Miranda had stage 2B invasive ductal carcinoma.

She scheduled an appointment with the Henry Ford Cancer Institute’s multidisciplinary breast cancer program at the Clinton Township hospital. There, she and her team spent a half-day devoted to mapping out a clear, coordinated care plan.

After a panel of cancer specialists, known as a tumor board, reviewed her case, she met in one visit with her entire care team, including breast surgeon Dr. Laura Dalla Vecchia, and medical oncologist Dr. Dawn Severson. Miranda’s nurse navigator, Amber Misch, became her main point of contact throughout her cancer treatment.

“It was extremely helpful to work with one person, and not have to leave messages with several different offices. Amber not only handled details, she was someone to talk to and advise me on what steps I needed to take,” said Miranda.

Genetic testing showed that she did carry BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, the most common genetic mutations associated with breast cancer. Following a mastectomy, Miranda had 16 rounds of chemotherapy.

A support network

Miranda was humbled and grateful for the outpouring of love she received from family and friends. It bolstered her strength during treatment.

Still, there were dark days.

“I did have some ‘Why me?’ spirals; the ugly sobs. But you deal with the ugly and realize: ‘This isn’t where I’m going to stay.’ Let yourself wallow for a minute. You have to feel it; you can’t shut it down. Then breathe and go on to what’s next,” recalled Miranda. “My husband helped me develop the tools to pull myself out and not stay stuck.”

Miranda’s husband Ian was her rock. “When I was diagnosed, he asked me what I wanted and what my goal was. I told him, ‘More time with you. More time living our life together, enjoying adventures big and small.’”

A finish line

Miranda completed chemotherapy in October 2018; no radiation was needed. She had breast reconstruction surgery with plastic surgeon Dr. Inad Janineh and still gets anti-hormone injections every three months.

And, this month, she crossed the finish line for a three-day, 200-mile bike ride for breast cancer in New Jersey.

While she put yoga teacher training on hold during treatment, she plans to return in spring 2020.

5 things Miranda wants all women to know

While her treatments are done, Miranda points out that it doesn’t mean she can go back to her normal life and forget all she’s been through.

“Cancer changes you forever. It woke me up into wanting to live my life with more purpose and less fear,” said Miranda. In sharing her story, here are five things she wants every woman to know:

1. Young women can, and do, get breast cancer.
2. Prioritize yourself and take ownership of your health.
3. Asking for help is a sign of strength. “I hope that by sharing my story and my vulnerability, it will convince other people that it’s okay to ask for help.”
4. Connect with nature. “Being in nature gave me serenity and reassured me that I wasn’t alone in my challenges.”
5. When faced something scary or challenging, there are always life lessons to be found.

Henry Ford’s multidisciplinary breast cancer program is available at all system hospitals. Learn more: henryford.com/BreastCancer

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