She’ll be one of the cancer survivors strutting down the runway at Pearls & Pumps this month. Here, Mary Ellen Berry shares the journey that led her to this moving moment at the Baptist Health fundraiser.
“I was looking at the monitor and was seeing what they were seeing. There was a calm about me,” says Mary Ellen Berry about undergoing a breast biopsy.
The biopsy followed two suspicious mammograms and an ultrasound. When she received the call with the biopsy results, her already busy life picked up speed, as she began to grapple with the reality that she had become part of the very non-exclusive group of one in eight women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
“The doctor told me I had an invasive carcinoma within a breast duct,” says Berry, an account executive with L’Oréal. At the urging of her nurse navigator at Baptist East, she then had an MRI which showed that the cancer had moved outside the duct. She was HER2-positive, an aggressive form of cancer.
“You have to take a breath and step back a minute and realize how fast your life has changed. We had to take steps,” she says.
Although her doctor suggested radiation, she chose to have a double mastectomy. “Because there’s always the chance cancer could come back, I wanted to go ahead and have the surgery. I didn’t want to worry about a recurrence in either breast,” she explains.
She recovered, a ten-day process that involved drains and measurements, at the home of her sister, Beverly Riley. But her ordeal was far from over. Ten rounds of chemotherapy loomed.
Throughout her recovery, her sister, mother, cousins and work friends provided support. And she credits her team at Baptist East, with whom she still stays in touch, with helping to keep her positive and happy.
“I bought Dr. Susan Love’s, Breast Book which answered a lot of questions and helped me with the lingo. Plus Barbara Delinsky, Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors was great because it takes you through every step of diagnosis, treatment, support groups,” says Berry. “I could read the chapters about what I was going through.”
There’s more to her story. Because her mother had breast cancer and her father passed away from colon cancer, she asked to have a BRCA gene test. It revealed she has the gene for breast cancer and the gene for pancreatic cancer. “The results were a blessing and a curse. The good thing about knowing is that every two years I can have an MRI to look at my pancreas. When most people find out they have pancreatic cancer, they’re in stage four. But every two years I can know I’m clear,” she says. As a further precaution to developing ovarian cancer, she underwent a hysterectomy in November, and adds, “I was done. Let’s take care of it all.”
Berry will be the featured cancer survivor at this year’s Pearls and Pumps fashion show to be held March 16 at the Downtown Marriott. “I’m going to do a video of my story. I hope to involve L’Oréal to do all the makeup with the models and work with the retailers to help with clothes,” says Berry. “It looks like a fabulous event to be part of. I want to help make it happen.”
IF YOU GO
The Baptist Health Pearls & Pumps #Empowering Strong Women fashion show will take place on Saturday, March 16, at The Marriott Downtown from 11:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M. Individual tickets are $100 and tables seat eight. For information and tickets, visit pearlsandpumps.org.