“I had just ran my first Chicago Marathon on October 12, 2009 and I was feeling pretty good about myself for that accomplishment,” Amanda Lyons recalled.
Right after running the Chicago Marathon back in October 2009 and turning 38 years old, Amanda Lyons of Valparaiso was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The day after running the marathon, Amanda had her yearly follow up with her OB-GYN. She pointed out to the nurse practitioner that she had a spot of concern that she had been monitoring and had not gotten better since the summer. She had a Mammogram and Ultrasound done on the spot, which she was not worried about due to past concerns that had all worked out. Amanda was sent to see a surgeon who was also not concerned about the spot due to Amanda’s age, as well as a lack of risk factors and family medical history. The surgeon told her that they should wait until the beginning of November and, if the spot was still there, perform a Biopsy.
The spot remained and Amanda had a biopsy done on November 13, 2009—Friday the 13th. The biopsy revealed not only one, but two spots leading to her diagnosis of breast cancer on November 16, 2009.
Amanda’s OB-GYN happened to be her husband’s aunt, Dr. Maryann Jones. She came to the Lyon’s household with Amanda’s sister-in-law to deliver the news.
“It was very scary, as we had just lost my husband’s oldest sister to breast cancer four short years before at the age of 44, so those wounds were still fresh for all of our family,” said Amanda. “I don’t think I have ever been that sad and scared in my life. I remember going in and looking at my kids that night before bed and just being so scared of not seeing them grow up. Sean was 8 and Katie was 6. My husband, Mike, held me all night long, and I remember waking up the next day and just not believing that this was all happening, but I also knew we could not waste time with the next steps.”
Amanda’s first steps were to see specialists at Northwestern University. She wanted to go and be with doctors who specialize and work with breast cancer every day. She considered herself blessed to have had three phenomenal doctors: Breast Surgeon Dr. Hansen, who was the head of her department, Plastic Surgeon Dr. Mustoe, and Oncologist Dr. Gradishar, who was also head of department.
Amanda spent one entire day having a Mammogram and Ultrasounds redone and then having a lengthy one-on-one with her Breast Surgeon to talk about her options. She needed to have a Mastectomy on her right side; she instead chose to have a Bilateral Mastectomy due to her feeling she was too young, wanting to be around for her children, and not wanting to risk a reoccurrence. Although the Surgeon did not feel that a bilateral Mastectomy was needed, she agreed to Amanda’s wishes.
“It was a long day, but a day full of information,” said Amanda. “We had a plan when we left and that was what I wanted. I am a planner and I felt so much better knowing we would soon get this taken care of. Then, on December 18, 2009, I had my Bilateral Mastectomy and Reconstruction, and I was on my road to healing.”
Once she was healed, Amanda had 3 rounds of chemo that began in February 2010 and finished March 17, 2010. The chemo was for precautionary measures since she was so young. She explained how her treatments made her tired but she handled them very well and was still able to work through the treatment. She worked full-time commuting to her job in Chicago and would only take a couple days off after her treatment.
Amanda continued to be active with walking after her journey. Friends from her church put together a team to do the 39.3 mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in June 2010.
“We had done this in the past for my sister-in-law who had passed, so it was a great honor to have this huge team that was doing it in my honor,” Amanda said. “We all trained together and did fundraisers together, and it was a great experience that I will never forget.”
Through her journey, Amanda’s biggest supporter was her husband, Mike.
“He became a nurse overnight and definitely took to heart our wedding vows, ‘in sickness and in health,’” said Amanda. “I am thankful every day that God blessed me with him.”
Her husband’s family was also a huge support system. Their family had been through a similar journey with Mike’s sister, so everyone was ready whenever Amanda needed help. Her mother-in-law, Phyllis, went to all her Chicago appointments while her sister-in-law, Jane, would take the children whenever needed. Her church family through Valparaiso University St. Teresa’s of Avila organized meals and made sure her family didn’t have to worry at all about being fed. No matter what Amanda and her family needed, their needs were met.
“For somebody who has been newly diagnosed with Cancer, I would tell them to take it one day at a time,” said Amanda. “Don’t get ahead of yourself. It is easy to get ahead of yourself and worry about the ‘what ifs.’ You have to just take it a day at a time, and sometimes it is an hour at a time or even a minute at a time. Just breathe and have faith.”
Through her journey, the biggest change was her faith becoming stronger. She truly believed that all her prayers were answered and it was the power of prayer that helped her come out successful on the other side of the Cancer Journey. She also learned that it is OK to ask for help when she is down and needs it.
“I am coming up on my 9-year anniversary of being a Cancer Survivor, and I am thankful every year that I am cancer-free,” said Amanda. “Sometimes it seems like yesterday and at other times it is like forever, but I know I am blessed and I try to give back.”
Amanda continued, “I have done two more Avon Walks and I am a Livestrong instructor at the Valparaiso YMCA, which is a cancer survivor program to get survivors back on their feet with exercise and wellness. I try to help out by talking to anyone who is going through a cancer diagnosis and has questions. Finally, I was blessed to be asked by the Pink Ribbon Society to be one of their Calendar Girls for 2019—I am Mrs. September.”