Lisa Hennessy did not think twice about breast cancer in her thirties. There was no family history, but one day her 39 year old cousin called her up to tell her she had breast cancer. Lisa was shocked, but immediately began to advocate for herself with doctors. She asked her OBGYN several times if she should be tested, but given that she was 34, her doctors did not think testing was necessary. Shortly after having her third child, Lisa noticed what she thought, at the time, to be a blocked duct. Doctors agreed to screen it to be safe. On March 1, 2017, doctors alerted Lisa that she had HER2 invasive ductal carcinoma that had already spread to her lymph nodes. Lisa notes, “I immediately went into mode” and, given the aggressive nature of the cancer, on March 31st she began treatment.
Treatment included chemo, radiation and single mastectomy all by the end of 2017. While Lisa desired a double mastectomy, noting that she felt like her other breast was “guilty by association,” doctors ultimately decided on a single. Throughout it all, Lisa maintained a “put your head down and get it done” attitude. After all, she had three children at home- ages six months, 2.5 and 3.5. She immediately ordered books to read to her children in an attempt to be open, honest and direct about what she was going through.
The entire experience was traumatic. Lisa acknowledges that she couldn’t have done it without the help of her community, specifically her husband, mother-in-law and parents. She jokes, “I was not a nice person” during treatment, but she was so grateful for all those who made it possible for her family to continue to forge on. Her cousin set up a meal train, her children’s day care stocked their freezer with food, and her workplace (UNH Manchester Campus) sent gift and grocery cards to relieve stress. Lisa jokes that food certainly is the universal language of support during crisis: “people you don’t even expect show up with food.”
Though years out from diagnosis, Lisa notes that the experience deeply changed her: “I think about it coming back probably six out of seven days a week.” Most specifically, around milestone events or birthdays for her children, she gets particularly emotional thinking “wow I might not have been here for this.” Refreshingly honest about her breast cancer journey and its after effects, Lisa remains grateful to be alive to partake in the everyday chaos of her family. It’s a reminder that the simple things, those we often take for granted, are indeed our greatest blessings.