The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s Young Survivors in Action program helps younger women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer navigate their diagnosis, treatment, and post-treatment pathways. These young survivors have access to networking, support, education, and activities that encourage them to continue to survive and thrive. Young Survivors in Action takes a holistic approach to the activities, support, and education provided and encourages each survivor to continue to learn and grow encouraging them to keep moving forward and live their lives to the fullest! For the next few weeks, Young Survivors in Action will highlight a few members of the group, sharing their story and promoting early detection in the fight against breast cancer along with the importance of loving yourself.
The YSIA spotlight this week turns to Mary Leard who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 36. Leard had no family history of breast cancer and was BRCA negative. She underwent surgery, chemotherapy and a breast reconstruction DIEP procedure.
“I learned that if you honor the struggle, it will only make you stronger,” Leard said when asked what she learned about herself as she underwent treatment. “I was very transparent in everything that happened and helped others to get checked after I shared my story. The mental power of positivity relaxed me. Also, I look pretty good being bald. And, when my hair started to grow back, I had the most fun rocking pixie cuts. I have always had long hair, so I never thought I could pull it off. I learned I was blessed long before my diagnosis. The amount of love and support that poured in floored me. I had no idea that people cared so much.”
Leard joked that the one thing she wished she had known while going through treatment was that she could order something to eat that was different than the daily menu.
“One day, there was a lady who wanted a burger and fries and I was like, I can order that?” Leard said. “Sometimes you have treatments on the same day each week and the food is always the same, so wit would have been nice to get something different. On a serious note, I didn’t realize reconstruction surgery was a one-time thing covered by insurance. I had a unilateral mastectomy, and while it was an educated decision, I can’t help but think if I even made the right decision. What if the cancer comes back in my other breast? How would I even pay for reconstruction at that point? Maybe I should have opted for a double so I didn’t have to worry about it and be done with it.”
Now, Leard has returned to crafting, daily workouts and “kitchen dance parties.” She switches her workouts between strength and cardio, always finding fun ones to do because she doesn’t like to feel like she is working out.
“I love music so there have been many dance parties with my family in the kitchen while dinner is being made,” Leard said. “I have always loved making things and it has become a side business now, so I am over the moon getting paid to do what I love to do. I definitely couldn’t be thriving and surviving without my support system. Prior to COVID, we made regular lunch plans and they were crucial to my healing, even more so now. Last but not least, wine helps immensely!”
The camaraderie of YSIA is what helps Leard the most as she travels through her cancer journey.
“It was SO refreshing to meet local women near my age who went through what I went through,” Leard said. “I wish it had been formed sooner and I wish I didn’t have to move out of Delaware because there have been so many fun events and we all just clicked from the first meeting. It’s an instant connection on a level that no one can ever be on unless you went through it.”
To learn more about the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s programs or more about DBCC’s Young Survivors in Action Program, please visit www.debreastcancer.org/programs/survivor_programs. Be sure to like and follow DBCC’s Young Survivors in Action’s Facebook page @YoungSurvivorsinAction to stay up to date with upcoming events.