Name: Megan Hilly
Diagnosed At Age: 32
Status: Declared Cancer Free
Bio: Megan was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast Cancer on December 18, 2008 at the age of 32. In the eight months that followed, Megan underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Today Megan lives and works in Manhattan with her husband Chris, their two year old son Douglas and their dog Bear. Megan will mark the 5 year anniversary of her initial diagnosis in December and welcome her second child in January.
My reaction when I was first diagnosed: Complete shock. I had only been married for 3 months and the path and plans I had for my newly married life were all at once called into question. But I always think about the quote that says, “If you want to hear God laugh tell him your plans”, and smile. A different plan than the one I had envisioned was about to unfold, and that was scary, but I believed God would never give me anything I couldn’t handle. It certainly wasn’t easy, but as I look back I have found that the experience offered as many silver linings as dark clouds (many of which I only came to appreciate once I was through my ordeal). Today I am back on the path I had always envisioned for my life…with the added benefit of knowing just how strong I am and having a great appreciation for what really matters in life.
How I’m feeling now: I feel great. I am 5 months pregnant with our second child and getting ready to mark the 5 year anniversary of my diagnosis. I wish someone could have told me on the day I was diagnosed that within 5 years my breast cancer would be completely behind me, my hair would be down past my shoulders again, and that I would have a beautiful son with another baby on the way. I’m not sure I would have believed them – but it’s all true!
My inspirations: Robin Roberts always inspires me. I look at her and see a beautiful, smart, strong woman who has gone through hell and back, and yet you would never know it by looking at her. I think that’s amazing and certainly inspiring.
My support system: My family and my faith. The day I received the news about my diagnosis, my husband, mom, dad, mother-in-law and father-in-law were all there. In those first few hours I didn’t know exactly what I was facing but I knew without a doubt that each and every one of them were prepared to do whatever was necessary to get me through it. The support my immediate and extended family offered that day and in the many months that followed was incredible and made all the difference. I also found great strength in my faith. Hundreds of people prayed for me during that time and continue to pray for me today. God provided me with the peace and grace I needed to get through each and every day, even when it wasn’t easy, and I am thankful every day that those prayers were answered.
I’m proud of: My family. The family who, without hesitation, rose to the occasion and stood beside me every day of my ordeal, ensuring that I never once went to an appointment or chemo session alone and that I always felt cared for and loved. And the family that my husband and I have built together in the years since my diagnoses. In January 2009 I was losing my hair and unsure if we would be able to have children, and in January 2014 we will welcome our second child. Thinking back to all we have lived through and achieved in the past 5 years makes me very proud.
I’m afraid of: The cancer reoccurring. In spite of diligently going for screenings every 6 months there’s always this fear in the back of my mind that the breast cancer, or something worse, could happen. When you are diagnosed with cancer that sense of invincibility we all have vanishes and suddenly you are left feeling very vulnerable. You become acutely aware that something like this can happen to you – as it already has once – and that’s scary.
I’ve learned: That I’m stronger than I ever knew. That having family, friends and faith can make all the difference in how you experience life, both the ups and down. That I love dogs (the puppy we bought right after my diagnosis was my first!). That different doctors will have different points of views on the best approach or treatment plan, so it’s important to seek out multiple opinions before taking any action. That it’s important to deal with the very best doctors, even if you have to travel or leverage your network to get appointments that may otherwise be hard to get. That we don’t always know by looking at someone what they’re dealing with, so we should always be kind.
My advice to new patients: Allow yourself the space and latitude to navigate through your experience in whatever way works best for you. Lots of people will offer you advice about how to handle your hair loss or tell you how you’re going to feel after chemo, but everyone’s experiences are different and you have to push through it in your own way. What worked for me? Getting dressed up for every chemo appointment. Letting my hair fall out slowly rather than shaving it. Getting a new puppy to re-focus my thoughts. Celebrating mini-milestones along the way with family and friends. Praying and receiving the prayers of others. Never allowing it to define who I am, but being open to seeing all the good that could come from it (if you look you will find silver linings). On the practical side, open up a new credit card for all of your bills and get a big bag for all of your receipts. When I finally started to feel a little better, the incredible volume of bills and insurance issues was overwhelming and something someone else could have helped me navigate had I taken these two simple steps at the onset. Take someone with you to all of your appointments who will help you ask the important questions and take notes – your mind will be elsewhere. Take it one day at a time.