In May 2006, Emily Scattergood, 37, was moving to Haddonfield, New Jersey, when she discovered a lump in her breast.
It was a busy time. Emily, then 34, had just completed her residency and fellowship in pediatric radiology and was about to start working as a doctor. She and her husband had their hands full with two daughters, then ages 4 years and 15 months.
Emily wanted to ignore the lump, but her husband, who is also a doctor, encouraged her to get it checked. After getting an ultrasound, Emily was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in her left breast.
"My first thought was, ‘How could this happen to someone like me?" Emily says. "Getting cancer never would have crossed my mind since I ate healthy and exercised regularly."
Emily’s next thought was of her daughters. "I wanted to tackle treatment and show them I have strength," she says.
She quickly began making treatment decisions. She wanted to do everything possible to make the cancer go away.
"I didn’t want to look back and wish I had done more," she says.
Because of Emily’s career, she knew who to call and was able to get treatment quickly. Two weeks after her diagnosis, Emily had a double mastectomy.
After surgery, Emily had treatment with chemotherapy and the targeted therapy trastuzumab (Herceptin) followed by radiation and reconstruction.
During her treatment, Emily tried to make life as normal as possible for her daughters. Her older daughter asked many questions, like why she had lost her hair, why she was going to the hospital and where her breasts went.
"The whole time I was the one trying to comfort her, but it was her warmth and heartfelt questions that brought comfort to me," Emily says.
Treatment forced Emily to come to terms with her changed body and emotional life. She found herself struggling with the day-to-day challenges of finding her "new normal." Yet it was during treatment that she discovered another aspect of herself.
"It took breast cancer, chemotherapy and radiation to help me see how much emotional and physical strength I had," she says.
Emily's daughters helped keep her strong. "I did not have the luxury to crawl into a dark hole when I was diagnosed," Emily says. "I had two young girls who needed me."
Her husband also supported her by taking on most of the family responsibilities. Although it was a difficult time for the couple, the experience helped their marriage grow stronger. Emily learned to communicate and lean on her husband when she needed help.
"Cancer changed both of us and our marriage," Emily says. "Now, we truly appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses."
Emily also found comfort outside her family. In the waiting room of her doctor’s office, she met Phyllis Markoff before a round of chemotherapy. Phyllis, who also was undergoing treatment, asked Emily where she had gotten her bandanna. Emily was taken aback and didn’t know how to respond. After Phyllis explained she had breast cancer and wanted something to wear on her head at the beach, Emily warmed up to her. They became instant friends, and Emily dropped off bandannas at Phyllis’s home later that day. Phyllis became a huge source of support for Emily during her treatment.
"It’s important to have someone to talk to—especially someone who is going through the exact same thing at the exact same time as you," Emily says.
Emily and Phyllis supported each other’s families. They were featured several times on local TV broadcasts discussing breast cancer and treatments. And in February 2008, they jetted off to Florida for C4YW, the Annual Conference for Young Women, hosted by LBBC, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Young Survival Coalition. It was their second time attending, and they bought matching t-shirts for the occasion.
"The information at the conference was invaluable, and it made a huge difference to see other women there who were going through the same thing," Emily says.
Emily feels lucky to have Phyllis in her life. "Your friends are there for you, but [sometimes] it’s difficult to explain what you’re going through," she says. "I didn’t have to explain anything to Phyllis."
Emily also benefitted from professional help. During treatment, she met with a counselor who had experience dealing with people affected by cancer. She says the advice helped her communicate more effectively with family, friends and co-workers.
A Changed Outlook
Before her diagnosis, Emily was very career-driven and always looking to the next activity or goal. Now she cherishes every moment, whether she’s with her family or by herself. She is more open and honest in all her relationships, she says.
"What happened to me during cancer treatment forced me to change who I was," says Emily. "I’m lucky to be here today," says Emily. "To not appreciate all the wonderful things I’ve been given would be wasteful.
"I’m not thankful I had cancer; I’m thankful of what I’ve done with it. You have to live every day and be aware of every day. You can’t do this on your own, so take support from those around you. Surround yourself with people who love you and want to see you through it. But most important, believe that you’ll get through it."
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