‘It’s just a part of me . . . but it’s not who I am’: Breast cancer survivor talks about living with cancer

“It made me feel like I had an expiration date,” Mary Lucy Glockner said about her breast cancer diagnosis.
‘It’s just a part of me . . . but it’s not who I am’: Breast cancer survivor talks about living with cancer
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 6:41 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Mary Lucy Glockner was diagnosed with breast cancer in August of 2020 after finding a lump during a self-exam. She says her doctor initially told her that the lump was likely from stress and hormones, which she believed because we were at the height of the pandemic.

“I had just moved my oldest son to Appalachian State. I was getting ready to teach virtually again. The world was crazy. All of that made sense to me that it was probably stress and hormones. So, I went for my diagnostic mammogram, thinking everything was going to be okay,” Glockner said.

Her annual mammogram showed something different though; stage two breast cancer.

“After the mammogram, the nurse and the doctor took me in a room and told me I needed a biopsy immediately and that my mammogram had changed dramatically in the year since the last one, which was a little surprising. [My doctor] said stage two, I was in for a real fight, and I was going to lose my red hair.”

She started chemotherapy in October 2020 and got more devastating news.

“The cancer had traveled through my blood to my spine. And I was now diagnosed stage four metastatic breast cancer,” Glockner said. “My first question was life expectancy. I was 45 at the time, with two kids, and a husband and family and friends that I love and lots more to do in my life. And I was told that the average life expectancy is five to ten years, which was really, really difficult to hear.”

Sixteen chemo treatments later, she started to grasp the concept that she would be living with cancer the rest of her life. In the midst of COVID, she says it was a tough battle because she was alone for most appointments and treatment sessions.

“Cancer, even with a lot of support, is still very lonely because whatever you’re going through, you’re really going through it on your own. No one else completely understands what’s going on. So, to have cancer and have COVID really limiting who you can see, it was really difficult,” Glockner said. “I don’t like to be surprised with, you know, the unknown. That’s so scary. And that’s why cancer is so scary, because you never know what’s going to happen. I never know from one scan to the next.”

She now takes pills for her cancer treatment, which her doctor, Dr. Lindsey Prochaska, refers to as maintenance therapy. But this hasn’t stopped her from living life as if things were normal.

“It doesn’t define me, it’s not who I am. I didn’t know that people could live with stage four cancer indefinitely. I’ve done so much research and I’ve learned so much since my initial diagnosis. I’m just really glad to still be here,” Glockner said. “I don’t think about cancer every moment of every day. There are days that I don’t think about it, which is great, because it’s just part of me. It’s just a part that I deal with and that I live with. But it’s not who I am.”

Glockner said she started getting her annual mammograms when she was 38 years old.

“I’d had diagnostic mammograms because they wanted to make sure everything was right. I’d had 3-D ultrasounds and 3-D mammograms to make sure that everything was alright. And one year later, because I found a lump. We found out that I had two tumors in my breast, and it had spread to my lymph nodes into my spine. There wasn’t anything else I could have done to prevent it,” Glockner said. “I’ve learned that you can still go on. Thank goodness for medical advances. And I hope that they continue that and we have even more opportunities and choices for different treatments down the road.”

Glockner knows how important that annual mammogram has been to keep her alive and shares a message that she hopes other women take to heart.

“Listen to your body and do what you need to do to take care of yourself. There were so many people that put off doctor’s appointments during COVID. Because it was easy to do. I so could have put off my appointment. I could have ignored it. I had a lot going on. I really didn’t have time to get into any of this cancer fight. But if I had ignored it, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”