Breast cancer is something Claire Myles, 68, has had on her mind practically her whole life.
Her maternal great-grandmother died from breast cancer at 56, and her grandmother had been treated for the disease with a radical mastectomy in the 1960s. Though her mom never had breast cancer, Claire and three of her five sisters have all been diagnosed with the disease (and another died from pancreatic cancer).
For Claire, the genetic component remains a mystery as she and her sisters have all tested negative for the most common breast cancer-associated gene mutations, including BRCA1 and BRCA2.
In 1995, at 43, Claire was diagnosed with pre-malignant ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in her left breast. She went through a mastectomy as a preventive measure because her family history of breast cancer made it even more likely that her DCIS could progress to invasive disease.
Although DCIS has a great prognosis, that didn’t mean Claire could avoid the emotional toll of the experience. But it motivated her to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Fast forward 15 years and Claire was in for her routine mammogram when her doctor discovered lesions in her right breast. This time was different. She had stage 1 invasive lobular carcinoma.
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“I was blown away that I was having another episode,” she said. “This time it was a little further along. My life was embedded in fear at that point.”
She had the option to do a lumpectomy, but she didn’t want to go that route. After speaking with her breast surgeon, Claire decided to do another mastectomy and reconstruction. Both cancers didn’t have lymph node involvement, so her active treatment just consisted of surgery. She recently hit her 10-year mark on an aromatase inhibitor and was able to come off that and fully feel finished with treatment.
Claire’s experience with breast cancer inspired her to pursue her dreams. She got into acting and started her own nonprofit theater company, all while working part-time as an occupational therapist.
“I created something that had some significant creative impact in the universe, and I’m extremely proud of that,” she said.
After five years of running the theater company, she wound down her involvement and got back to occupational therapy full-time. She has since created tools used by other therapists to help children learn, won awards for her innovations, and risen to the top of her field.
“Cancer helped me climb up to the top of the hill of conquering my fears,” she said. “I took new risks.”
Claire is grateful that research gave her time to pursue her interests and make an impact, and she hopes it unravels more answers about her own family and others.
“I really hope that we can support research that gets to the bottom of this disease and finds out what links my family,” she said. “I don’t want to live in fear—and I don’t want to see the future generation of women live that way, either.”
Read more inspiring stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.
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