This story is brought to you by Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, the largest medical facility in the region, serving Idaho, Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park and Montana. With a Level II Trauma Center, Level I ICU and the state’s only burn center, EIRMC provides valued and vital resources to the communities it serves.
As a single mom of four kids, it’s no surprise that Mary Mays needed a nap. The surprise came when she woke up from that nap, unable to use her right arm and leg. She dragged herself upstairs and told her dad she needed a ride to the hospital. Mary was having a stroke.
The mysterious stroke came and went, leaving no permanent damage or sign of why it had arrived in the first place. Mary and her doctors began a variety of tests for answers, but none came until a relative of Mary received a breast cancer diagnosis. That’s when Mary reasoned that since she was already undergoing a bunch of tests, she might as well add women’s health screenings to the list.
All in the family: Let’s get through this together
“I thought I should go get those things checked out too. So, I had a pap smear and mammogram and checked how my hormones were doing,” Mary said. “They called me back because my mammogram didn’t look right.”
Mary sat numb as she learned she had stage 1 breast cancer.
From the unexplained stroke to the asymptomatic breast cancer, everything about Mary’s diagnosis felt mystifying and yet meant to be. Her neurologist decided that Mary’s breast cancer must have somehow triggered her stroke, and Mary realized she wouldn’t have received a mammogram to identify the breast cancer if it hadn’t been for the battery of tests that stemmed from the surprising stroke.
“It’s weird, but my stroke ended up being blessings in disguise,” Mary said. “From there, everything moved quickly. It was boom, boom, boom. I received my diagnosis in May, in June I had surgery and by July chemo started, then came radiation.”
Stream-lined cancer care: Collaboration, connection and compassion
Dr. Michael Lemon performed Mary’s lumpectomy at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC).
“I really liked him because I could ask him anything and never felt stupid, and also because he works with awesome nurses who were so calming and relatable,” Mary said.
From the surgery, physicians found multiple lymph nodes that tested positive for cancer. She would need chemotherapy and radiation in an effort to destroy every last cancer cell. First came eight rounds of chemotherapy, occurring every other week, at the Idaho Cancer Center at EIRMC.
“Oh my gosh, I love the people at the Idaho Cancer Center! They’re family! I’ve never felt more comforted in a doctor’s office than there,” Mary said. “From the first moment, a team member came up and hugged me and held my hand all the way to the room. She said, ‘Honey, you’re going to make it through this. It’s going to be okay.’ The friendships developed from there. I always knew I was taken care of.”
Though friendship and compassion came in abundance during chemotherapy, so did chemotherapy’s side effects. Mary lost her hair and experienced extreme fatigue, pain and nausea. At one point she broke down in tears, feeling as if she had nothing more to give.
“I said I couldn’t do it anymore. I hurt from the top of my head to the tip of my toes. I had never been in such pain. But my mom told me I was strong, and I knew I had four little kids to take care of. At the next appointment my oncologist adjusted the medicine, and that helped with pain management. It got better from there,” Mary said.
Healing with a family focus
After chemotherapy, Mary began 6.5 weeks of radiation, five days each week.
“Radiation was way easier for my body than chemo,” Mary said. “All I had to do was lie there and show everybody everything I had. The radiation team was awesome! They’d talk and visit, and I’d get used to their voice as they talked me through the process.”
With a foundational motivation to care for her own children, the support from her family, and the close-knit cancer care at EIRMC, Mary shared that her overarching cancer experience felt centered on familial ties.
“It’s all about family. Family makes the biggest difference,” Mary said. “That’s why I say, if you have to go through cancer, go to EIRMC. They stand behind you and are right with you. They’re your family, and they let you know it.”
Group effort, group success
Doctors use the term No Evidence of Disease (NED) when signs and symptoms of cancer are gone. Mary has received the celebratory NED news from her physicians.
“What a big relief! We got through it. It’s gone! On the night I heard from the doctors that there’s no sign of the disease, my kids and I went out and ate ice cream for dinner,” Mary said. “Looking back, I’m proud of me. I didn’t think I’d make it through. If I can go through this, anyone can. I’m also very proud of us. I look at my kids and my parents, my family and my healthcare team and think, ‘We did it!’ It amazes me every day.”