Maryellen Brisbois

In December 2006 I was ‘officially’ diagnosed with breast cancer, but I had known this long before the medical and scientific community caught up with me. Three years prior, my doctor found a ‘lump’ during a yearly exam. I followed up with a mammogram, ultrasound and a surgeon as recommended, and was told I had a cyst.

I was unable to feel the cyst during that time, until one morning in October 2006. I remember waking up for the day and feeling a thickness in my left breast that was new to me. Since it was October and Breast Cancer Awareness month, I thought this change was all in my head. After all, I had been vigilant with all of my appointments to monitor the cyst and had no risk factors (no family history, maintained a healthy weight, and had been a runner for 28 years). I later learned that the majority of breast cancer patients do not have risk factors for the disease.

“We are quick to postpone or delay our doctor appointments because we are so busy, but it is important that we take care of ourselves.”

I immediately made an appointment with my doctor who listened to me and ordered a mammogram, ultrasound and a trip back to the surgeon. All the while I was told it was nothing. I met the surgeon who decided it wasn’t necessary to biopsy the cyst, but I felt very strongly that something was different this time. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to a biopsy, but I did know that I had to advocate for myself right then. A biopsy was performed and I went back to my busy life of being a mom, wife, nurse, and graduate student.

A couple of days later I received a phone call saying that there were suspicious cells found in the biopsy results. I wasn’t surprised, but I was devastated. A MRI and another biopsy confirmed that I had invasive ductal breast cancer (Stage II). I spent the first seven months of 2007 receiving treatment that included chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and radiation treatments. I am happy to report I am now healthy.

I am hoping that by sharing my story with you, you will take the time to know your body and be aware of any changes. We are quick to postpone or delay our doctor appointments because we are so busy, but it is important that we take care of ourselves. It is the most important thing we can do for our families and ourselves.

I now teach a new generation of nursing students, am working towards my doctoral degree and published a book about my experience. But more importantly, I have had opportunity to tell my story and send a message about awareness and advocacy. I heard recently that there is ‘nothing so bad in life that something good doesn’t come out of it’ and I believe this is true.


  • thickness in her left breast