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Research is the Reason I Can Show Up for Myself and for My Family

By BCRF | December 12, 2023

After being treated for breast cancer twice, Marianne is grateful for the perspective she’s gained and for the role that research played

It was December 2020, as the pandemic raged on, and Marianne Santee was going in for her annual mammogram and ultrasound. This was her third time getting screened, but this time, something unusual was detected. Her doctor followed up to let her know that she had cancer in her right breast. 

She received the devastating news over the phone while at her son’s tennis lesson. 

“It sounds cliche to say, but it felt like this wasn’t happening to me. This was happening to someone else—someone not as healthy as me,” the 43-year-old wife and mom of two children said. “I was in such shock and disbelief that I couldn’t grasp anything the doctor was telling me.”

Marianne began her treatment the next month, starting with a lumpectomy in January 2021, followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy beginning in March, and finally, one month of daily radiation. After, she began tamoxifen, a daily hormone therapy, to reduce her risk of recurrence.

“Being a mom, it was extremely difficult for me to take time to rest, even as my body was demanding it. I was used to being active and going a million miles a minute,” she said. “I felt like if I was lying in bed, I was giving in to being sick.”

After eight months, Marianne was grateful and relieved to finally finish treatment, but, unfortunately, that relief didn’t last. As the end of the year approached, she had a nagging feeling that something was off. The following spring, she got an MRI that confirmed she had a recurrence.

“I was despondent. It felt like everything around me was unraveling,” she said. 

Undoubtably, the hardest part was telling her children again after she assured them that her treatment was complete and that their family could finally move forward.

“As a parent, my kids put so much trust in me and look to me to provide comfort and assurance. I gave them confidence that this would be something we’d quickly put behind us,” she said. “How could I tell them I was wrong and that this was happening again?”

A couple weeks after the MRI, Marianne underwent a double mastectomy at her doctor’s recommendation, followed by reconstruction five months later, and today she remains on tamoxifen.

Marianne’s diagnoses forced her to put herself first, which initially was challenging as a busy marketing professional, wife, and mother. Her family, she said, was incredibly supportive—giving her the strength and encouragement she needed to move through this difficult experience. Over the last two years and across the two diagnoses, she’s gained a clear perspective on the few things that are most important to her.

“As moms, we tend to put everyone’s needs before ours. But this experience forced me to put myself—my health—ahead of carpools, activities, and home-cooked meals,” she said.

And at a time when everything around her felt unstable, Marianne said research was a grounding force.

“A lot gets thrown at you when you learn you have cancer. You quickly try to get up to speed on new vocabulary and scientific terminology, while also dealing with big emotions and wondering how this is happening to you. But research is the one thing that is undisputedly clear,” she said. “When so much is uncertain and you’re looking for answers, I took a lot of comfort in the explanations my trusted team of doctors provided because it was grounded in research.” 

After she discovered BCRF during her diagnosis and treatment, Marianne became a proud supporter of the Foundation’s mission, starting a BCRF fundraiser at her workplace that raised more than $5,000 for lifesaving breast cancer research.

“BCRF is singularly focused on research—the one thing that will hopefully put an end to breast cancer,” she said. “For our future generation of women, for my daughter, there’s no other way we’re going to find a cure if not through research.”

Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.