By Rebecca Drew
THIS MUM was told that a lump in her breast was BENIGN but six months later she was diagnosed with CANCER WHILST PREGNANT with her fifth child and had to undergo four rounds of chemotherapy before giving birth – and now she’s urging other women to be their own advocate.
In June 2018, small business owner, Michelle McClain (39) from Winters, California, USA, was browsing on the computer when an advert about the importance of checking breasts for changes popped up.
Encouraged by the advert, Michelle pressed down on her right breast and was alarmed when she immediately felt a lump. The next day she went to the doctor and had to have a mammogram and ultrasound which came back saying she had fibroadenoma, a benign tumour. Mum-of-four Michelle felt uneasy by the reassuring news as her gut was telling her the lump was more serious, but she was told to come back in six months for a follow up.
In December Michelle was pregnant and when her breast was examined she was informed that the lump had doubled in size and at that point she was certain she had cancer and felt like crying and screaming in despair but she had to wait for it to be confirmed through a biopsy.
On January 15, 2019, Michelle was 19 weeks pregnant when she received the devastating news that she had stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma triple positive breast cancer. Michelle was terrified about what was going to happen to her unborn child and other children who needed her.
Michelle was given four rounds of chemotherapy which she was told would be safe for her baby to shrink the tumour and stop it from spreading so that she could continue with the pregnancy past 34 weeks. Four weeks after her last session, Michelle was induced and gave birth to her daughter Dakota, weighing 4lb 10oz on May 6, 2019.
She was initially scheduled for a bilateral mastectomy on May 23, but a mammogram showed that Michelle’s tumour had started growing again so her surgery was cancelled, and she was put on Taxol and Herceptin/Perjeta to block the hormones that her cancer thrives on.
A PET scan in August showed that there was no visible malignancy in her right breast and her cancer hadn’t spread to other parts of her body. Michelle is now scheduled for a lumpectomy in September. She will continue having a Herceptin/Perjeta infusion every three weeks until May next year and will take hormone blockers for a minimum of five years.
Michelle has been sharing her story on Facebook and Instagram after not having any knowledge of breast cancer before she was diagnosed and says it has helped her stay positive and she hopes she’ll be able to save a life by raising awareness.
“I was on the computer and an advert about breast cancer self-checks popped up. I thought, ‘what the heck, why not’ so, I pressed my right breast and immediately felt a lump. I panicked as I didn’t expect to feel anything,” said Michelle.
“I met with my doctor the following day, a mammogram and ultrasound were ordered immediately. When the results came back, it said I had fibroadenoma. Common with women my age and with dense breasts and I had a follow up in six months.
“I felt uneasy, my gut was telling me I had cancer.
“In December when I read the radiologist report, I knew I had cancer. I was completely numb. I didn’t know if I should cry or scream or both but I didn’t because cancer wasn’t confirmed just yet.
“They still had to schedule a biopsy to confirm, but when biopsy was done and confirmed, that phone call was the worst day of my life. I was at work when I received the call. I immediately broke down, everyone was at lunch at the time so I was in the office by myself.
“I left work and called my husband on the way home, he met me at home. All I could think about was my family. I have young children and one on the way. What’s going to happen to my unborn child. They needed me, I’m too young to die, I was terrified because I had no knowledge or education on breast cancer.
“I didn’t want to lose my baby, I cried every time I thought about it. I was nervous going through chemo. Although my Oncologist said it was perfectly safe, I still worried. I would poke at my belly, shake it a little just to feel her move. When she didn’t move for a couple hours I’d do it again.”
Michelle’s husband, Mike and other children, Audrey (16), Natalie (14), Dylan (9) and Mieka (6) have been her rock throughout her cancer fight. The family were relieved when Dakota arrived into the world safely and signalled that Michelle could fight her cancer head on.
Since her diagnosis Michelle has been encouraging women to check their breasts regularly and wants to encourage them to be their own advocate if they sense something isn’t right with their body.
“I’ve accepted that I have cancer which makes it easy for me to breeze through everything,” said Michelle.
“Both my parents are no longer here, so my family is pretty close. They are readily available when I need them for anything. My mother in law is a huge help as well. She keeps the two younger children busy so I can rest. A meal train was started at the beginning of this journey but I have not had the need for it because I’ve actually done quite well through all 16 rounds of chemo.
“I actually started a FB page dedicated to my cancer journey. I had not planned to share my journey on IG but realised I had many friends on IG who did not have FB so that’s when I started sharing my journey there as well.
“I wanted to spread awareness and share my journey so people could experience it with me. It is amazing how many people actually aren’t aware of all that this cancer entails.
“It makes me happy knowing that people are interested and asking questions. It helps me stay positive and optimistic! If I can save a life by sharing my story, why not.
“Never think that it could never happen to you. It only takes a minute to do a self-exam. Please do it because cancer does not discriminate.
“When something doesn’t feel right, speak up. It’s important to be your on advocate. You know your body best.”