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How Breast Cancer Changed Her Life Forever – One Mom’s Emotional Essay

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An emotional essay written by Annie Spano of Lancaster. She’s a 36-year old wife and mother of two. Her strength has inspired many, including me. Here is Annie’s story. 


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but for a survivor, it’s every single day.

Over the course of a lifetime, 1 in 8 women will hear those earth shattering words, “you have cancer!” I would soon find out, I was that 1.

On the morning of February 3, 2014, while lying in bed, fighting the urge to get up and ready for work, I performed a self breast exam – a decision that would later save my life.
There it was. A hard, movable lump in the center of my chest. I had a baby several months prior and I was breast feeding. It had to be a plugged milk duct. Plus, I was far too young to be worrying about cancer.


I placed a call to my physician, who immediately instructed me to head over for a mammogram. I remember sitting in the cold waiting room, dressed in an unflattering taupe gown, staring at the women surrounding me. Were they scared too? Have they been through this before? My mammogram was completed and quickly followed by an ultrasound and a core biopsy. I knew this couldn’t be good.

On February 5, 2014, I received the call that would forever change my life. “I’m sorry, but you have cancer.” There it was. The dreaded diagnosis. Over the phone and by a complete stranger. I was only 31. I have two young children. How could I have cancer?

My shock turned into fear, my fear turned into anger, my anger turned into determination – I was going to beat this. I had to beat this. If not for me, for my children. They needed their Mom.



Days became weeks, consisting of bloodwork, MRI’s, genetic testing, consults and countless scans. It was all so overwhelming and at times, too much to handle.  I was officially diagnosed with Stage 2b, Grade 3, Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which is an aggressive and difficult cancer to treat. Only 15% of women are diagnosed with TNBC, as it’s referred.

After 6 months of intense chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, I was considered “cancer free.” Although I was happy that part of my life was behind me, it came with a price. Cancer took my friends. It took my breasts. It took my fertility. It took my self esteem. It took my innocence.  I’m no longer the same person I once was. I desperately wanted to return to my old “normal” life, but I quickly realized this is my life now.

In a strange way, cancer was a blessing. I know I was one of the lucky ones and I am beyond thankful to be alive. I was given a second chance to reflect on my life. I enjoy the little things. I cherish the little moments. I’ve rediscovered my strength. I’m not as hesitant to try new things. I value my relationships and I find purpose in every single day.

I don’t let breast cancer define me, but it’s a part of my life. It’s a battle I deal with every single day and that battle is made easier being surrounded by my family and friends who support me, encourage me and never let me give up.

Some survivors choose to stay private about their struggles and that’s ok. I choose to share my experiences with people with the hope that it helps or comforts just one person. I’m not an inspiration, and I’m not always brave. I’m just like everyone else.




I want people to know that cancer doesn’t discriminate. It’s important to be diligent about your health – self exams, mammograms and all preventative health measures. Early detection can save lives. I’m living proof.

Cancer or no cancer, people are just people. All of us flawed, living and learning each day as we go. When you can, smile. When you can, comfort others. Be the reason someone keeps fighting and never, ever gives up.

Mary Friona

Mary Friona

Following my heart with my husband and four daughters. An Emmy Award winning journalist lucky enough to work in television & radio for 20 years - seeing wonderful places, meeting great people and telling their stories.