From Preventive Measures to Breast Cancer Warrior — Mandi's Story
Mandi Lahman had always had her eyes open for cancer.
At age 22, she had thyroid cancer, and later genetic testing among her and her family members revealed the presence of a CHEK2 mutation, which increases the risk of breast, colon and thyroid cancer. In fact, Lahman had inherited the mutation from both of her parents, and a genetic counselor told her that her risk of breast cancer was 80 percent.
“I was floored,” she said. “For me, that was more than enough to want to take the steps toward a prophylactic (preventative) mastectomy to reduce my risk. I saw the same surgeon my mother had seen 10 years prior, and during the planning process for my bilateral mastectomy, she ordered an MRI of my breast, and the abnormal finding on that MRI led to a biopsy, and in turn, my breast cancer diagnosis.”
"It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you are in the thick of treatment. It was challenging to have to constantly remind yourself that this is just a small part of your story, and not your entire story."
She was only 34 years old at the time, and what was supposed to be a preventive step ended up being vital. Lahman, a nurse practitioner at TidalHealth, could easily grasp the medical terminology and knew what questions to ask. But she had also seen the struggles of other patients with similar diagnoses.
“It also meant that thanks to MyChart, when scans or labs came through, I could interpret them myself prior to hearing from my doctor. For good news, this is great… but when it is something questionable or bad, it makes it all the worse that you know the bad news, and then you are waiting to hear from someone on the next steps in the process,” she said. But it also helps her in her work as a healthcare provider. “Having this unique perspective has helped me to have a better understanding of how patients feel with this diagnosis, and I can give them my firsthand perspective on many aspects of a cancer diagnosis, even though no two situations are the same.”
Lahman said it was scary to be a patient, and frustrating in a way. “In my mind, I was doing things to prevent being a patient, and still ended up on the ‘wrong side’ of the medical spectrum. I knew it was going to be a hard road, and that the process was going to be completely different than any other medical issues I had faced in the past.”
But she had a positive experience with her care team. “As a patient in the oncology unit, I felt welcomed and cared for immensely. I knew that everyone that I encountered was working toward the same goal, which was to get the cancer out of my body. They were helpful, hopeful, and kind, and made sure that I was doing well, physically and mentally all throughout the process.”
"Find your people and accept help that is offered to help you get through the rough times."
The worst part of the process? “Chemo! Not so much the actual infusions, but the aftermath of side effects. While medications can do a lot to help with the side effects, you are not going at 100 percent even with all the medications, and when you are a mother to two young girls and working full time, you feel helpless when you can’t be ‘supermom/superwife/super-employee.’ ”
Lahman’s daughters were just 1 and 4 when she started treatment. “I didn’t want their lives to be negatively affected by my cancer diagnosis or treatment, so I tried to push through, but it was rough to say the least. Treatment also changes how you think of yourself. When you feel sick and your hair is gone, and you feel like your body has failed you, it can negatively impact your mental state. The confident, strong woman in the mirror has changed. She’s bald, and pale, and feeling defeated,” she said. “It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you are in the thick of treatment. It was challenging to have to constantly remind yourself that this is just a small part of your story, and not your entire story.”
But Lahman’s family, friends and coworkers helped brighten that beacon at the end of the tunnel. Her husband became a “Mr. Mom,” and coworkers and friends offered lots of support. “I also joined a local support group chat of other local women who were battling breast cancer as well, and their past experience, advice, and support also made a big difference in my life,” she said.
To anyone facing a similar diagnosis, Lahman says: “You have to keep going. If you can get through the surgery, and the chemo, and all the lab draws, and scans, and all the constant worry and the changing appearance, you can get back to a place of normalcy in the end. When you are in it, it seems like cancer is your whole world (and it sort of is), but after you get back to the semi-normalcy, it will just be an additional diagnosis in your medical history, and not something that you have to constantly think about or worry about. Find your people and accept help that is offered to help you get through the rough times.”
Become part of TidalHealth's Drive for Mobile Mammography. TidalHealth will be raising funds to bring a mobile mammography unit to Delmarva. This unit will drive to underserved areas to offer breast cancer screenings to our friends, families, and neighbors who may not have access to healthcare. Learn how you can donate and help us save lives.