CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - "Hey, Molly... this is my story."
A surprise email from co-worker Michal Campbell. Her long and informative email blew me away. She asked in the kindest way possible to please be careful in relaying what she said. She doesn't often talk about what she has been dealing with, but understands the importance of sharing it now.
Michal works in sales at WBTV News. She is 44 years old and has been fighting breast cancer most of this year. Michal told very few people when she was diagnosed in March. (In fact, I bet some we work with are floored to read this.)
Her privacy was understandable. Michal's mom fought breast cancer and eventually died not from the cancer, but from a rare side effect caused by treatment, something called therapy related cancer.
In her mom's case, chemotherapy caused leukemia.
Michal grew up fearing the same for herself.
"I was only 22 when she passed away," Michal wrote. "My mom did everything considered 'standard of care' - surgery and chemo, which is what caused the leukemia. She died two days after her 53rd birthday."
Because of that history, Michal started yearly mammograms at the age of 35. She'd often get called back for additional screening, but everything always came back normal.
Michal's last mammogram was December 6th, 2016. It was clear.
Two months later - TWO MONTHS AFTER A CLEAR MAMMOGRAM - Michal rolled over and felt a pain in her left breast.
"I didn't really pay that much attention," she says. "But two weeks later I rolled again and felt the same pain. Within a couple days I saw my doctor, who wasn't worried but said I should get a biopsy to confirm."
On Monday, March 13th -- Michal says she won't ever forget the date -- she got the call.
"I was instructed by the nurse to write this down, 'invasive ductal carcinoma.' What??" she said. "I knew carcinoma was cancer but what was all that other jargon? I wanted to get off the phone to Google but was further instructed by the nurse to only go to cancer.org to research. I had just had a clean mammogram. How did they miss this?"
Michal would later learn the cancer was too far up against her chest wall to be detected by a mammogram or an ultrasound.
Later that day, her gynecologist walked her through everything. Small. No lymph node involvement. Stage I. Michal's doctor ordered a MRI to be safe.
"Never thought I'd be so happy to hear 'You have cancer but only Stage I!" Michal says. "It made me feel lucky."
Only, that MRI showed a different story; turns out one of Michal's lymph nodes looked swollen.
"That was a game changer," Michal said. "Two more biopsies were ordered. I still wasn't telling many people, but got to a point I couldn't keep hiding the appointments. When you have cancer but keep it to yourself it's almost like it's not happening. I had to start letting it be known."
Of all the powerful things Michal said in her email, what she said next seemed to stand out the most:
"Telling people is when it became real."
About a month after that first diagnosis, Michal was in Augusta, for The Masters. She got another call from her doctor.
"They told me it had spread into my lymph node and the tumor was the twice the size as first believed," she said. "I was suddenly Stage II. On this beautiful day, surrounded by the famous azaleas and thousands of people, tears streamed down my face. I knew chemo, which took my mother's life, was now on the table."
Ultimately Michal discovered her breast cancer was 100% hormone positive (lives off only hormones). Michal's MammaPrint came back low-risk of recurrence so she chose radiation and hormone therapy to shut down the cancer.
"Life is about making decisions but when you have cancer, decisions are about life or death," she said. "At forty-four, I was making decisions that would impact the rest of my life. I was lucky because my surgery and radiation went well, but every morning my first thought is still knowing I had cancer. I still question my body for failing me this way."
"When people ask when I'll be in remission, I give a short answer of 'Never.' Any survivor knows breast cancer is a lifelong disease; notorious for hiding in other areas. You live day-to-day knowing it can come back at any time."
Michal recently registered for Susan G. Komen Charlotte "Race for the Cure" - a proud member of WBTV's #TeamMolly! The Race is October 7th. Join us. Sign up on link below. It's $25 to register this month; goes up to $35 in September.
Here is the last paragraph in Michal's email:
"As I finish writing out my story, I can't help but notice today's date. Today would've been my parents 50th wedding anniversary. The impact of cancer devastates families; too many children are living without their parents, too many parents are living without their children. Unfortunately, mammograms can't catch everything. Be your own advocate, make the best decisions for the data you have at that time, surround yourself by friends and family that will fight right along with you."
Thank you, Michal. Honesty about tough things can be a great encouragement to others.