'You Got to Have Faith': A Look into the Inspirational Story of a Two-Time Breast Cancer Survivor

“Empowered women empower women.” While this quote has accompanied the campaign for female empowerment, it also perfectly coincides with the focus of this month: breast cancer awareness. Although breast cancer does affect men, about 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer at some point in their life, and let me tell you, these women are fighters. It is through the stories of women living with breast cancer that I have seen empowerment personified. Take two-time breast cancer survivor Dolly Meyers, for example. At 75 years old, she has beat breast cancer twice and her spirit has not faded a bit. To those around her, she is an inspiration. To me, she’s not only an inspiration, but she’s also my grandmother.

In the spirit of breast cancer awareness month, I wanted my grandma’s story to be shared in the hopes that it will educate and provide hope to those affected by breast cancer. In a poignant interview, my grandmother shares her journey with breast cancer and how she overcame the fears that accompanied it. Here’s her story.

Her Campus UFL (HC UFL): You were first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32. Can you tell me how you discovered you had breast cancer at such a young age?

Dolly Meyers (DM): Well, I actually went to the doctor for a cough. Once I got there, he took an X-ray to see if anything was wrong. It was this X-ray that led to the discovery of my cancer.

HC UFL: Obviously the diagnosis came as a surprise. How did you feel when you were first diagnosed?

DM: Scared. I just remember driving down to my father’s house in downtown Pittsburgh right after the appointment. I went in his house and immediately started crying when I told him. My girls were only 10 and 14 at the time, so you can imagine my fear. But my dad just held me and told me that he would be there with me on the day of my surgery.

HC UFL: As you said, you went through surgery to remove the cancerous region. Do you remember how you felt that day?

DM: I was quite nervous. They operated and tested to confirm that I had cancer. I did, so they had to decide how to treat it. Since this was 43 years ago, they decided the only option was to perform a mastectomy (breast removal). My father was with me on the day of my surgery and I was comforted to have him there. What I wasn’t emotionally prepared for was the fact that my father had a heart attack the same day of my surgery. I was kept in the hospital for a week and it was an extremely difficult time emotionally.

HC UFL: Wow, how long did it take for you to recover following your surgery?

DM: It took me about a month to get back to work and recover fully. At the time, I was a waitress, so my job involved lots of heavy trays and lifting and such. I didn’t want to go back until my body was fully recovered.

HC UFL: After being cancer free for 43 years, you faced the news of a second breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 75. Did your reaction to the diagnosis change after having already been a breast cancer survivor?

DM: I was just as scared the second time as the first time. It was the fact that I didn’t know if it had traveled that frightened me. The second time, it took me longer to find out my diagnosis as there were several people ahead of me waiting for my doctor to see them. I understood that I had to wait but it made me more anxious about the possibility of the cancer traveling. I finally got in to see the doctor and he confirmed that I had breast cancer again.

HC UFL: In terms of finding out your second diagnosis, what led to go to the doctor to see if you had breast cancer again?

DM: In the beginning of November 2017, I went and had a mammogram done and the mammogram is what caught the abnormality in my breast. The screening is what saved my life. I was able to catch cancer earlier on, which helped my chance of beating cancer for the second time. I highly encourage all women to get screened yearly or every six months. It could truly save your life.

HC UFL: After being diagnosed a second time, was your prescribed treatment different?

DM: Yes, but there was a lot more confusion about how I should be treated the second time. The doctor suggested another mastectomy, but the surgeon said that it wasn’t necessary. He suggested that he perform a lumpectomy (removal of cancer, not entire breast). The only catch was that I would need to go through radiation for 5 days, 2 times a day. I decided to follow the surgeon’s advice. The worst part of the second time of treatment was the wait. I couldn’t be operated on until February, which was a few months away. Living with other health issues, I just wanted to get the cancer out as soon as possible.

HC UFL: During this time of waiting and treatment, who or what did you turn to for comfort and hope?

DM: Every night I just prayed that I would beat cancer a second time and safely come out of surgery. Your mom [her daughter] was my rock during this time. She was always there for me, caring for me throughout my fight with cancer. My family was so important to me during this time. I was blessed to have my family and friends as my support system.

HC UFL: After your time of waiting and treatment, you are officially cancer free for the second time! If you could convey any message or advice to anyone facing breast cancer for the first (or even second) time, what would it be?

DM: Number one, you got to have faith. Find a support system during this time. You don’t have to fight alone. Number two, for women not yet diagnosed, get mammograms and complete self-examinations regularly! Being proactive about your health will help ensure that you are able to catch any abnormalities early.

HC UFL: Is there anything else that you learned throughout your journey living with breast cancer?

DM: Don’t let cancer have you. You can get so consumed mentally thinking that cancer will win but you have to tell yourself that you are going to defeat it.   For me, I prayed a lot, but do whatever you need to do to gain a sense of hope. Having faith and trusting in your strength will push you through. Don’t let cancer steal your joy.

She may be my grandma, but Dolly Meyers’ story amazes me every day. Like the thousands of women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, she has received news that could easily destroy one’s will to fight. But she was empowered and claimed her right to hope by not letting cancer defeat her spirit. Her story exemplifies former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: “A woman is like a tea bag-you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.” Cancer is not a death sentence, it’s an invitation to grow stronger than you ever have been before.