Four Years and Nineteen Days

Fair warning, this post is not about writing or books coming out. I’m going to veer from my typical path of keeping my private life private and share something personal with you, my readers.

February 2012, I lost one of my best friends to breast cancer. It’s not a topic I discuss lightly. Donna wasn’t just my friend, she was family.

When I was homeless and living in my car, she brought me into her parents’ house. From that day forward, I had a safe place to sleep, a family that loved me, and a sister who’d have done almost anything for me.

More than that, she introduced to me a world where I learned to believe in myself. The two of us quickly became three. The Trio, as we were called, consisted of Donna, Kim, and me.

We were all headstrong and idealistic Aries.  So different in our personalities and our music tastes (except for Great Big Sea—we all loved them). Yet, somehow, we bonded.

We’d attended the same college. After graduation, we managed to remain close, even though we lived in three different states.

For over twenty years, we were there for each other through marriages, births, deaths, and of course, family holiday dinners. But the best were our birthdays. Since we were born within eight days of each other, we always did a yearly celebration.

So when Donna entered hospice on a cold, Friday afternoon in February, Kim and I were both there. We didn’t think, didn’t discuss it. We just went. We stayed with her through the long weekend as she quickly deteriorated. By Monday evening, she was gone. She was only forty years old.

Kim and I remain close today, which made the next part so much harder.

The Trio Christmas 2008

Donna, Kim, and me

Because Donna and I weren’t genetically related, I never dreamed I’d be facing my own breast cancer scare.

Four years and three days after she died, the doctor found something in my mammogram. He called for a biopsy.

Four years and twelve days after she died, I was given the news that the pathologists found Atypical Ductal Hyperplasia. NOT cancer. No, not cancer, but on the cancer spectrum; the first step toward the disease. A marker that indicates a risk of developing breast cancer in the future.

Four years and sixteen days after she died, I met with a surgeon to discuss my risks and my options. After a full assessment, it’s been determined I’m considered a high risk. The next step is an MRI, after that, surgery and preventative medicine.

I struggled with telling Kim about mammogram. I didn’t want to cause her pain. I didn’t want her to do what I had done…relive the memory of saying goodbye to my sister, our best friend. But I needed Kim to be a rock one more time. I needed her to keep me laughing while we waited for the next bit of news to come in. It’s been only sixteen days since the mammogram but it’s felt like months. And she’s been my rock. My daily dose of laughter. My best friend.

What I have trouble articulating is the guilt that I feel. See, while I’m relieved that I stand a better than average chance of beating the disease before it can take hold, I feel guilty because my sister didn’t have that same opportunity. And I feel guilty for reminding my best friend and my loved ones of those terrible days four years ago when we had to say goodbye to Donna.

If she were here, she’d tell me to get over it. She wouldn’t blame me for escaping her fate. She’d be thrilled. I know this. No one has to tell me. But…guilt and cancer are insidious beasts that eat away the soul.

So perhaps, I’ll allow myself the one thing I’ve denied. Time to grieve. It breaks my heart to know that if only she had been diagnosed today, she could have survived. We’d still be the Trio.

Since she didn’t, it’s my job to follow the surgeon’s advice. Get the surgery. Keep up with the mammograms and MRIs. Take my preventatives.

It’s been four years and nineteen days since Donna died and it’s time for me to spread the word.

Get your mammograms regularly beginning at age forty. If the doctors recommend a six-month follow-up, do it. Don’t put it off. After all, it’s easier to beat back the disease if you don’t give a chance to grow.

This entry was posted in Writer's Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Four Years and Nineteen Days

  1. Mary, I don’t know where to start. Thanks with telling your story, of your advice to us. I am praying for you. And thanks for telling us more about Donna. I hadn’t seen her since college, but we talked on Facebook, and she was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. I am serious when I say that. And I will take your advice.

    • Mary Behre says:


      Donna was truly one of the best people I’ve ever known. It’s amazing to me how one person can touch so many lives…even more than twenty years later. I’m glad to hear you’ll get your mammogram. And sincerely, thank you for the prayers. 🙂

  2. Anita Tooke says:

    Mary, My sister had breast cancer in 2007 (ductal carcinoma in situ). Doctors told us that if you were going to get breast cancer this was the one you’d want. Well two years later, Winnifred was dead from gallbladder and liver cancer. So despite what the doctor said the cancer still killed her so any cancer is bad. I had my yearly mammogram yesterday. I will keep you in my prayers for a speedy recovery and wonderful positive results!
    Love Anita

    • Mary Behre says:


      I’m so sorry for your loss. You’re right. No cancer is good cancer. It’s why I decided to share my story. The best way to beat cancer is to keep it from happening, if it all possible. Thank you for sharing your sister’s story with me. I’ll be keeping you and your family in my prayers as well.

  3. Donna P says:

    Thank you for sharing, that had to be hard. I can not imagine what you have gone through and hope I never have to. Have peace in knowing you were there for Donna and Kim will be there for you. Take care and know that you are appreciated for being you.

    • Mary Behre says:

      Hi Donna,

      Thank you for your words of support and encouragement. It was difficult to share the story, but I’m glad to know it was well-received. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to have opened my website and found these heartfelt postings. Thank you, so very much.

  4. Mary, I’m so glad you’re being smart and proactive about this. I also can’t stress enough the importance of that mammogram by age forty. My daughter in law was also smart; went in for her very first mammo last year instead of waiting. A year, Triple-Negative Breast Cancer, chemo, surgery, hair loss, and radiation later, she’s in remission and we’re still praying it holds. She’s got a five-year old at home who needs her, and so do we.

    Please take careful care of you, because you’re our LaLaLa Mary and we love you a La La La-lot.

    Hugs, Char

    • Mary Behre says:

      Hi Char,

      Thank you for sharing your the story of your daughter-in-law. I’m keeping her and your entire family in my prayers. Hugs and LaLaLaLove! 🙂

  5. Joanne says:

    I am confident that you will get through this and be a stronger person for it. You caught it before it could become a bigger problem. I am so proud of you for sharing your story and working to inspire/motivate others to take care of themselves. I’m sorry that you are going through this. I just celebrated my 5th year in remission from breast cancer. I’m here for you if you ever want to talk, vent, cry ……. Sending you hugs.

    • Mary Behre says:

      Hi Joanne,

      Congratulations on your 5 year milestone! That’s fantastic. I might just take you up on the offer to chat the next time I’m in your area. Big hugs!!

  6. Geri Krotow says:

    Mary you are a ROCK. Your honesty and integrity will carry this message to so many…we all need to be in charge of our own healthcare. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched by this awful disease. Thank you for your brave post.

    • Mary Behre says:

      Geri, you’re absolutely correct, we all need to be in charge of our own healthcare. Sometimes, I think the hardest part is just keeping that annual appointment. It’s easy to push it off when we’re busy and feel well. Unfortunately, that just not something we can with this disease. Thank you for your words of support.

  7. Jan says:

    Mary, I cannot express what an impact this is to read. I believe that the sister you lost is very proud of you and that your written words quite possibly could change the thought process of woman that AREN’T havng mammogram. Thank you so much. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

    • Mary Behre says:

      Thank you, Jan. I hope this post convinces women who aren’t getting regular check-ups to do so. The could save their own lives with a simple mammogram. Peace.

Leave a Reply