8 Breast Cancer Survivors Reveal How It Felt the Moment They Heard the News

breast cancer

It's that moment when you cross from one world to a new one: The moment when you're diagnosed with breast cancer. From that point on, you've got a new, all-consuming focus. We talked with eight breast cancer survivors about how they felt, and what they thought, when they first heard the devastating news.


andrea ivory

An Ah-Hah Moment

Andrea Ivory was a successful real estate agent when she was diagnosed with cancer. "My immediate response was shock: 'Oh, I didn't sign up for this!'" she told us. But Ivory had already been doing some soul searching before she became ill, so her next thought was, "Okay, there's nothing I can do about it, but how can I turn this into something positive? I was not going to let this defeat me." One year later she founded the The Women's Breast Health Initiative.

eloise caggiano

I've Got to Focus

Eloise Caggiano was a healthy 33-year-old when she found out she had breast cancer. "Needless to say, hearing the words 'We thought it was nothing, but you have breast cancer' was an unbelievable shock," she recalls.

"I was scared, overwhelmed, and my mind was whirling. I distinctly remember realizing that the doctor was still talking, but I hadn’t been listening, and I thought to myself, I’ve got to focus. I’ve got to listen. Because I have to call Mom and Dad later and somehow tell them I have breast cancer."

Caggiano says her battle with cancer gave her a new perspective that led her to become Program Director of Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

More from The Stir: 10 Ways Women Fighting Breast Cancer Can Feel Beautiful & Fashionable

melanie young

You Cannot Fall Apart

Melanie Young, small business owner and author of Getting Things Off My Chest: A Survivor's Guide to Staying Fearless and Fabulous in the Face of Breast Cancer, still remembers how it feels to get that news: "It takes your breath away, like someone punched you in the chest. I was told on the phone while at work. I stepped outside and let it sink in, taking deep breaths, and called my husband, David. You feel very lost in a new place you did not plan to visit and were not prepared for."

She continues, "First you cry. Then you go numb. But you cannot fall apart." Instead, Young got organized about her treatment. "Cancer is both life-changing and life-affirming," she says now. 

mary anne kouchut

That's It!

Mary Anne Kochut got one of her breast cancer diagnoses on September 11, 2001, of all days. "As I was leaving the cancer center, after scheduling the first chemotherapy treatment, one tear rolled down my cheek and I said to myself, 'That's it! You've felt sorry for yourself long enough. Now let's concentrate on what we can do something about,'" she remembers.

The events of September 11 put things into perspective for Kochut. "The people who went to work that day thought they'd be going home that night. They didn't, I'm still here, and I'm here for a purpose: to increase awareness and inspire others."

After Kochut tested positive for the BRAC2 mutation gene, her daughters and a niece were tested -- and came out positive as well. They're all still alive today but have been empowered by having that information.

adrian mcclenny

What's Next?

Adrian McClenney, founder of Sisters Network Miami, says when her doctor told her she had breast cancer, "I sat numb and shed a few tears, but I immediately wiped them away and asked, 'What's next?'" Her son had just left for college and she had a daughter in the fifth grade. "I knew whatever my situation may have been, there was no way I was not going to fight. I got so excited that the doctor had to tell me to calm down because they would have to wait to see if treatment would even help me." It took 16 rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, and multiple surgeries, but McClenney's cancer is thankfully in remission.

alice patterson

I Prayed

"I will never forget the day the surgeon patted me on the shoulder in the recovery room and said, 'We got us a little breast cancer, but don't worry; it is going to be okay,'" says Alice Patterson, Associate Professor of Education and Director of the EdD Program at Trevecca Nazarene University. She had stage-three cancer.

"Those words strapped me onto a roller coaster with loops and turns for which I was not prepared. Mortified does not even describe my feelings. I was 52 years old and the single parent of a 10-year-old daughter. I did only what I knew to do. Pray." She asked God to let her survive to raise her daughter to be an independent woman; her daughter had just graduated high school. And her prayers were answered.

diane vaughn

I Am Going to Do Everything I Can 

"I remember like it was yesterday," says mother of four Diane Vaughn of her breast cancer diagnosis in 2006. "I was standing in my bedroom and my doctor told me over the phone I had stage-four breast cancer." She says her feelings of shock motivated her. "My first reaction was that I was going to do everything I could do to deal with it." She was 38; her children ranged in age from 4 to 13.

In a cruel twist of fate in 2010, Vaughn lost her husband to an aggressive form of stomach cancer. Still, she says, "I'm happier about birthdays now, knowing I could have died."

christine ajai

I'm Going to Fight This

Christine Ajayi says getting her breast cancer diagnosis was "a lot to take in." She was 46 years old. "I have four children, breastfed, never smoked, never drank. The oncologist said he couldn't tell me why I got cancer, but sometimes it just happens even when you do everything right."

"I was pretty sure my doctor was going to tell me it was cancer, even before the biopsy results," Ajayi recalls. "From the first moment, I thought, I'm going to fight this because I've got a lot to fight for." 

We'd like to express our gratitude to these women for sharing their stories and hope they'll be helpful to other women who have to ponder this difficult choice.

Do you or someone you know have breast cancer? What did you think the moment you heard the diagnosis?


Image © iStock.com/bns124

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