Breast Cancer Survivor Calls Herself ‘One of the Lucky Ones—Twice’Cancer Care
It takes a good dose of courage to face a breast cancer diagnosis, especially if you’ve already overcome kidney cancer. Mary, a 66-year-old part-time Fort Myers resident from Michigan, has courage in abundance.
A mother of three children and grandmother to six grandkids, Mary recalls the vow she made to herself after her breast cancer diagnosis in February 2022.
“I’m going to watch all my grandkids get married someday. I can do this.”
It’s probably not wise to doubt the resolve and resiliency of someone whose last name is GoodCourage—yes—as in Mary GoodCourage.
Ten years ago, Mary was treated for kidney cancer. She lost part of her left kidney to the disease but won the fight.
“I knew you could live with one kidney,” she says. “I knew that because my aunt lived with one kidney until she was 93. But to get another cancer diagnosis all these years later, that was very scary.”
Mary believes in the importance of regular health screenings, including yearly ones for cancer. Over the holidays last year, she went home to Michigan for her annual mammogram screening. The results came in after she had returned to Fort Myers for the winter. The findings indicated an area of concern. Mary’s doctors recommended further evaluation.
“I'm like, okay, what do I do?” Mary recalls. “An ultrasound was recommended, and I decided to have it done in Fort Myers rather than back home. I mean, it's beautiful in Michigan, especially in the summer, but in the wintertime, the sun’s not around much.”
Mary GoodCourage and her husband, Dale.
"...a fantastic experience"
She picked Lee Health Cancer Institute to have her ultrasound done because “it was closest to my home. The ultrasound was the start of a fantastic experience.”
At the Breast Health Center at the Lee Health Cancer Institute, a multidisciplinary team approach offers a patient-centered experience that anticipates patient needs. In Mary’s case, she appreciated the Center’s “sense of urgency” about her case.
“I really appreciated that,” she says. “The worst part of all this is the unknown. What’s going to happen? You don’t know. But the care team didn’t waste any time to get things going and help me.”
Because her ultrasound results concerned her doctor and radiologist, Mary underwent a recommended biopsy two days later. Again, her care team’s swift response impressed her. “I have a friend back in Michigan who had a similar scare, but she had to wait weeks before her biopsy was performed. Here, mine happened right away.”
Mary recalls how Francis Hutchinson, a biopsy nurse navigator, rubbed her back and held her hand before the procedure.
“It's a scary thing to have done and to have somebody there—a human touch means a lot,” she says. “And that goes for everyone that day when I came into the Breast Health Center. Everybody was phenomenal, from the people behind the reception desks to my care team members. I never met anyone having a ‘bad day.’ Not once,” she marvels.
Mary’s biopsy results revealed she had cancer. “I won’t lie,” she says about the results. “I thought I’d lost everything right there.”
Within days of her diagnosis, Mary’s cancer care team mobilized into action. During a single visit to the Cancer Institute, Mary and her husband met each member of her cancer care team, including the medical oncologist, radiology oncologist, cancer geneticist, registered dietitian, and cancer rehabilitation nurse.
“My nurse navigator, Liz Bachoo-Garib, took care of everything for me,” Mary says. “She set everything up with my team and even called my doctor in Michigan. I met every single person on my team, one at a time. They explained exactly what was going to happen. All that support was very comforting.”
Reaching important goals
Mary, honoring her last name of GoodCourage, soldiered on, telling her doctors that she had an immediate goal: “It was February then, but that April, I was supposed to go back home to Michigan and see my grandchildren. That was my goal. I needed to be there. I wanted the surgery done by then. And they made it happen,” she says.
Mary’s cancer surgery was a success. The cancerous tissues from her breast were excised (removed) by her oncology surgeon. Because her margins were clear (meaning there’s only normal breast tissue at the edges of the tissue removed from the breast), Mary wouldn’t need more surgery. Her cancer was out.
Coincidentally, Mary had her surgery on the same day as her husband’s birthday, February 28.
“I told my husband, Happy Birthday, honey, I'm getting rid of my cancer. It was the best birthday gift ever.”
Mary’s cancer journey wasn’t over yet though. She received five radiation therapy treatments every other day after her surgery to reduce the risk of any possible cancer occurrence.
As of this October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Mary remains free and clear of her cancer. She calls herself one of the lucky ones—twice.
“When you have people who really care about you, that makes you feel blessed,” she says. “I’m still here to see my kids, my grandkids. If I could shout from a mountaintop on how wonderful I feel, I would.”
Mary’s Cancer Care Team:
Frances Hutchinson, R.N., biopsy and breast navigator
Liz Bachoo-Garib: breast navigator
Dr. Emmanuel Magara, oncology radiologist
Dr. Thomas Kowalsky, medical surgeon
Taylor Meyer, registered dietitian
Caroline Lamb, cancer rehabilitation
The Lee Health Cancer Institute helps cancer patients with comprehensive care and treatment plans from its expert team of medical oncologists, specialists, and nurse navigators.
Resources are accessible and conveniently located for residents in Cape Coral, Naples, Fort Myers, Port Charlotte, and Bonita Springs. The Center also offers in-person or telemedicine healthcare services.