Marirose Dempsey, age 27, lost 17 lb*
“I admitted that I was terrified of the future, but I kept moving forward. That is courage to me.”
In Marirose’s words:
When I was 25, during a physical, my doctor found a suspicious lump in my right breast. I have polycystic ovary syndrome (PSOS), so I figured it was just a benign cyst, which is common for those with PSOS. But he suggested that I get a tissue biopsy in both breasts and an MRI. The results: In April 2014, my doctor diagnosed me with a stage 0/1A tumor in my right breast. A month later, I received a second diagnosis in that same breast: a stage 3A tumor that had spread to my lymph nodes. I felt like my world had ended. My dad had passed away from cancer in 2009; now, I had to challenge death.
I was 25 years old and I had cancer—wait, what?! I was upset, scared, and angry that I had to face this at such a young age. I asked myself, “Why me?” Right away, I had to make major life-changing decisions. Should I do chemotherapy? Will that affect my fertility? Should I get a mastectomy? But do I want to breastfeed? Luckily, I had an amazing support system of friends and family and practitioners to comfort me, to go to appointments with me, to coach me. After multiple biopsies, my treatment was set: a bilateral mastectomy and six rounds of chemo.
Adjusting to changes
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t imagine myself as, someday, being a mother. So when I was thinking about the mastectomy, I kept on worrying about the possibility of breastfeeding and my fertility in general, but I had to let it go. With each test and doctor that I dealt with, my mindset slowly changed. It became apparent that my best chance of making it through this and not having to repeat it was to have the bilateral mastectomy, even though that procedure would get in the way of some of my plans. I learned to wake up and say, “OK, what’s in line for today? How am I going to deal?” I began to hope for the best down the road and just take each day as it came—I had no other choice.
Staying strong and focused
I am a music teacher and I found that my job and my students really helped me through the hard parts. During the 2014-2015 school year, when I was having my treatments, I took off only five days of school and didn’t tell more than a few of my colleagues what was going on. When I finally revealed my condition to the principals, they were shocked—most people going through that would have taken a leave of absence, but I couldn’t do that. I know myself, and I’m the type of person who doesn’t feel good unless I’m busy. So I did that by teaching, and I fed off my students’ energy. Looking back, I never would have changed that decision. My students have no idea how much they helped me that year.
A new goal
About a year after I finished my treatment, I was cancer-free, but I still didn’t feel the way I wanted to feel. I finally said, “Enough is enough.” I gained weight during chemo, plus I had done so much emotional eating. And chemo certainly didn’t leave me wanting to be active. My mom had been successful on Weight Watchers, so I decided to join. Since it’s less common to get cancer in your 20s, I often felt isolated. But joining the program made me feel normal again. Women of all ages, many around my age, worry about their weight—I wasn’t alone. In that way, the idea of losing weight didn’t feel quite as hard as battling breast cancer, a fight that was uniquely my own.
New experiences, new tomorrow
Today, I’m more inclined to put myself out there. I recently ran my first 5K and I tried a ballroom dance class. I’ve moved back home to Rochester, NY, and I’ve become closer to my family. I have a loving and caring boyfriend who motivates me to try new things. It just feels like everything in my life is heading in the right direction. I joined the program so that I could be healthy, but I wanted to be happy, too—and I realized that it’s possible to be both.
*People following the Weight Watchers plan can expect to lose up to two pounds per week.