Breast cancer never crossed Lauren Bygland’s mind in the weeks and months following the birth of her son, Max, in 2018. After all, she was 34 and healthy—busy adjusting to life with a newborn while trying to fit in a few runs and catch up on some precious sleep.
After she noticed a hard lump in her left breast while breastfeeding, her doctor diagnosed her with mastitis. For two weeks, Lauren tried the usual tips to alleviate a clogged milk duct, but nothing was working.
At that point, Lauren had a creeping sense that there was something different about this lump, which wasn’t painful (like mastitis often is) or changing in size. However, her doctor told her to take another two weeks to see if the size went down. Instead, Lauren wanted to get peace of mind and found a different OBGYN with an immediate opening.
“I was pretty convinced it was nothing, but then the second OB-GYN ordered a mammogram. Even then, that was a manageable anxiety,” she said. “But from the minute they did the mammogram onwards, I knew something was wrong. When I got the call that I had cancer, it was so world-altering. I remember calling my husband crying and thinking, What would happen to Max if I died?”
The day she’d gotten the mammogram, the doctor told Lauren immediately that there was something suspicious in her left breast and ordered a biopsy. She was officially diagnosed with breast cancer in mid-January 2019 and soon after learned it was stage 3 and HER2-positive. Early on, Lauren also underwent genetic testing because of her young age and got another shock: She carried the BRCA2 gene mutation.
That winter, she did six rounds of chemotherapy with Herceptin and Perjeta—two HER2-targeted therapies that she continued for a full year after she moved on from chemo to a double mastectomy and radiation.
One of the hardest parts of treatment, Lauren said, was navigating changes to her treatment plan—and there were several.
Initially, she was going to have a single mastectomy, but then when she learned she carried the BRCA2 mutation, her doctors recommended a double mastectomy because of her high risk. Toward the end of treatment, her oncologist recommended she start taking hormone therapy preventively because of her BRCA2 status and the fact that her tumor had a very low amount of estrogen receptors.
“I think as a longtime runner, I’m able to look at a plan and say, ‘OK, this is what we’re doing and what’s going to happen.’ Any deviation was difficult,” she said.
Since finishing active treatment for breast cancer in early 2020, Lauren has also had to undergo other unexpected changes of plan. Because BRCA2 mutations are also linked to a higher risk of ovarian cancer, she was being routinely screened with blood work and ultrasounds. In 2021, because of several cysts that turned out to benign, she had an ovary and two fallopian tubes removed.
Throughout breast cancer treatment and in the years since, Lauren found some control in the chaos by running—a sport she started as a teenager. Even though running “wasn’t particularly pretty” while she was getting chemo and other therapies, she said it helped her feel better both physically and mentally.
“It sounds corny, but I really do credit running with my grit and resolve. Running taught me to stay steady and put one foot in front of the other, and it made me feel like I could do this. I can do hard things,” she said. “Running always has been—and I hope for a long time always will be—part of my life.”Research, too, gave Lauren confidence that she would come out on the other side of her diagnosis.
Learning her BRCA2 status had a ripple effect in her family. Because Lauren learned her status, she was able to pass along that potentially lifesaving information to her paternal relatives. Her aunt underwent a preventative double mastectomy, and cousins and other relatives have gotten tested.
During treatment, Lauren also learned about the incredible progress that’s been made against HER2-positive disease specifically.
“Early on, turning to Dr. Google, it utterly terrified me to learn that HER2-positive breast cancer was the most aggressive. I saw it had worse survival rates, but I wasn’t paying attention to the dates of those articles,” she said. “Finding out that Herceptin had changed the game for HER2-positive breast cancer and then later Perjeta changed the game again, it really blew me away. Talking to my doctor and learning about those treatments, I felt significantly better.”
Lauren learned about BCRF on social media and was drawn to the Foundation’s focus on research—and specifically metastatic breast cancer research.
“It wasn’t lost on me that I was stage 3. Had I waited longer or not responded to treatment, this could have been a different story,” she said. “I had options but there are not enough options for people with stage 4. That’s something these women and men live with forever.”
In 2022, Lauren crossed the finish line of the TCS New York City Marathon on Team BCRF, raising more than $5,000 for research.
“Research can really change the game,” she said. “If there wasn’t a drive to research, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Read more stories from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason storytelling initiative here.
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