Ami Mehr has been rowing since her move to Boston in 1999. In 2013 she began having pain under her left armpit. Out of precaution, she had a mammogram. It turned out to be a muscle issue, but it opened the door for yearly mammograms. Upon returning from Disney with her husband and two year old son in April of 2014, she had a mail reminder to schedule her next mammogram. The reminder would save her life, as the mammogram went on to reveal significant calcifications that triggered the need for a biopsy. With no family history of breast cancer, Ami believed the doctor when he said, “80% of the time this is nothing.” 48 hours later, however, Ami was hit with the news that she had DCIS, stage 0 breast cancer.
She made the call to a family member who had faced this diagnosis before and was encouraged to get multiple opinions on treatment. Ultimately, MGH’s plan felt best: a nipple and skin saving double mastectomy and reconstruction. Ami jokes she “rowed more in that two months leading up to surgery than I ever had in my life. I went into that surgery the strongest I possibly could be.”
After surgery, her mother moved in to help with her two year old, but it’s no surprise that Ami’s focus quickly became about rowing again. She set a clear goal: to row in Head of the Charles that coming October. She jokes, “everyone thought I was crazy,” but with the help of a sports PT and doctors, she got in a boat two weeks before race day. She notes that being focused on this goal helped keep her motivated through the aftermath of surgery: “that’s what I was going to do- no matter how crappy I felt, it remained my goal.”
On race day, the course was littered with friends, family and doctors screaming her name, but most special was the start line, where a double rainbow appeared just before launch: “I cried so hard. I don’t even know how I held the oar handle for the first half of the race. All the emotion from the entire time came flooding out while rowing.”
It is rowing that has continued to guide her through the hardships life has thrown at her since diagnosis. Upon returning to Syracuse after helping her daughter beat cancer, Ami’s mother herself was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer in both breasts. She would go on to have the same surgeries, from the same doctors, as her daughter. Of that time, Ami notes the ironic shift of “being in the supporting chair while my mother was the patient.”
Further in 2019, Ami was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The resulting surgery and recovery, though difficult, revealed it to be benign, which Ami counts as a huge blessing. Through it all, Ami repurposed her mindset to always “focus on a goal.” It’s her greatest advice to those newly diagnosed: “even when it hurts, you finish the race. You can be in the worst of situations and obviously everyone’s story is different, but you really need to focus on a goal. That’s what is going to get you through.”
Ami’s amazing interviews through the years: