Breast cancer made an impact on Michele Mick’s family long before her own diagnosis: her mother battled the disease twice, most recently in 2002. Ironically, it was during her mother’s recurrence that Michele, then 30 years old, discovered a lump in her own breast.
Knowing that her family history put her at increased risk for breast cancer, Michele acted quickly. She consulted with a surgeon and pushed strongly for a biopsy. “I insisted on testing,” Michele remembers, even though the surgeon believed the lump was likely benign.
Ultimately, Michele’s instincts proved correct: a biopsy revealed that the lump was Stage 1, triple negative breast cancer. Michele also completed genetic testing and learned that she had a BRCA1 gene mutation. Both BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations increase an individual’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Michele’s treatment was comprehensive, consisting of a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation. She struggled most with the side effects of chemotherapy, which suppressed her immune system and left her prone to infections.
As Michele recovered, she felt motivated to help other breast cancer patients. She was instrumental in starting a local support group for young women in Madison, and she also volunteered with Susan G. Komen.
Because her inherited gene mutation significantly raised her risk for ovarian cancer, Michele elected to have surgery to remove her ovaries in 2012. Aside from this procedure, the decade following Michele’s breast cancer diagnosis was uneventful.
Then in 2014, routine imaging detected a recurrence of Michele’s breast cancer, this time in the form of DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ. This type of cancer occurs in the cells that line the milk ducts of the breast.
Michele’s genetic risk profile meant that treatment had to be more aggressive this time. She underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction, a complicated surgery that lasted 12 hours. Healing proved to be an arduous process, but Michele was ultimately happy with the results.
While Michele had informally mentored other women during her breast cancer journey, it was not until 2016 that she connected with ABCD via her volunteer work for Susan G. Komen. That year, she completed ABCD’s Mentor training and also participated in Team Phoenix, a triathlon training program offered to cancer survivors.
While upbeat, Michele doesn’t hesitate to share that coping with the aftermath of breast cancer has not been easy. She also points out that while breast cancer is a common occurrence, every patient’s experience with it is unique. For example, some individuals may have an easier time with chemotherapy than others. Some may deal with complications and a longer recovery. “It’s important to recognize this,” says Michele, “and accept that this is a time when you’re going to be nurturing yourself, and letting others take care of you.
Today, Michele continues to serve as a Mentor and advocate for ABCD. Her quiet wisdom and unflinching honesty have enabled her to connect with many other women who are facing the disease.
“The great part about ABCD is that the type of support you get is so customized,” she explains. “Doctors aren’t in the business of giving emotional support to patients. As a Mentor, I can offer a perspective that a clinician cannot.”
It’s this perspective that will continue to make a positive difference for others.