Originally from Laurel, Maryland, Marilyn Eshoo now lives in North Port.
When were you diagnosed?
I was 69 in August, 2018.
What treatment did you have?
I had chemo, surgery, chemo again and radiation.
Did you face any obstacles? If so, how did you overcome them?
They couldn’t find the primary tumor. I had invasive ductal breast cancer in my lymph nodes – that’s where abnormal growth was found during my mammogram. But no breast cancer was found in the breast. I was given the option of having a mastectomy or trying to find the breast cancer.
I ended up going to Moffitt in Tampa. The surgeon did a physical before she looked at the MRI I’d had and didn’t feel anything, everything seemed fine. After looking at the MRI, she said I have an asymmetrical nipple. She biopsied it to see if it was the source of the breast cancer and it was.
The tumor was so small but we have so many lymphatic receptors around the nipple, it just sucks the cancer into the lymph nodes to try and get rid of it.
We assume wrongly that mammograms and imagery pick up everything – it doesn’t.
I’d had a PET scan before the MRI; it showed nothing except some suspicious lymph nodes.
Where did you find the greatest support?
Friends and family. I had tons of greeting cards sent to me and I hung all of them in my room. Every time I would start to have a pity party, I’d look at those cards and think “those friends are all reaching out to me, they all care.”
My older sister gave my younger sister and I bracelets that look like a butterfly made from two hearts, so whenever I’d go for a treatment, I’d always wear it because it meant my sisters were with me.
My husband was right by my side, he went to every appointment up in Tampa.
And there’s this lady I met while picking up my wig in Sarasota – she lives in Apollo Beach – we got to talking and, even though we live hours apart, she started sending me texts to check in on me all the time. It just blew me away that this complete stranger took me under her wing. It was so heartwarming.
You get really bad burns from radiation and you need this cream for them. Once, she checked in asking when I started radiation. I said I started the next day and she replied, “don’t worry, the cream will be on your doorstep.” She’d sent it through Amazon. I felt like she was an angel sent to look over me.
I would hope to pay that forward and be that person to somebody.
How has this affected relationships with friends and family?
It deepened them. I’m quite fortunate I had all the support I did. Every trip up to Tampa, my husband would come with me and I’d say, “no, I can do it myself,” but he insisted on being there with me.
Neighbors and friends would bring food over, they’d offer to drive me places. Friends would send me texts to check in and see if I was doing okay.
How has this experience changed you?
It gives me a tremendous appreciation for other women who have gone through breast cancer. I’d wrongly assumed it’s like any other thing; I never realized just how much it impacts your life. It is a long process – the physical and emotional toll it takes – I don’t think I’d ever considered that. But I’m much more educated on the topic, now. I’m more empathetic.
Do you have any advice for others?
Sharing my story was therapeutic, there are other women who want to keep that bottled up. You need to share your story to get support. I get it’s embarrassing, it’s personal. But so many people have had breast cancer, they understand and will reach out and give you support.