It had been four years since Catrina O’Reilly had gone in for a regular mammogram. All the exams from previous years had come back clean so why worry about it?
But O’Reilly couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that it was time to go back. That little voice in the back of her head could have saved her life.
“My husband kept telling me that I need to go, you need to make the appointment,” O’Reilly said. “I finally did and I was just going for what I thought was a routine mammogram. And then my results came back that they needed to see me again.”
After several more tests and a biopsy, O’Reilly was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in June 2019.
“They told me that I needed to get with an oncologist,” O’Reilly said. “I needed to get with a surgeon and that I would need to have surgery.”
Not knowing where to start, she reached out to a friend who had just gone through a double mastectomy and recommended the doctors she had used.
On August 27, O’Reilly underwent a lumpectomy to remove the cancer from her breast and she is currently undergoing radiation.
“I had 24 treatments,” O’Reilly explained. “So that’s like a month and a half. My last treatment is October 31.”
O’Reilly feels blessed that her experience was not as bad as it could have been.
“I feel blessed because I see these ladies who don’t have hair and they’ve been going through this for a long time, and they’ve really had a lot of really bad side effects,” O’Reilly said. “I don’t feel sick. I’ve had days where I’m kind of tired. My skin is starting to get kind of sunburned looking. It’s itching and a little uncomfortable but not terrible. Overall I feel like I’ve done really well with this.”
Although her symptoms were not as severe as others’, her journey was not easy.
“I was terrified,” O’Reilly said through tears. “I was scared and since I live so far from Amarillo, they told me over the phone. I was there with my husband and we were just terrified and didn’t really know what to do first. I was in a pretty dark place for a few days, but then with the support of everybody in my family - I go through some days where I feel a little bleh, because it changes your life.
'It changes your routine, it changes how often you get to see the people you love and grandbabies. But with everybody’s support I feel blessed that it’s not as serious as it could have been, I feel like I’ve really handled it pretty well.”
When a family member receives such a serious diagnosis it takes a toll on everyone. For O’Reilly’s daughter, Alyssa Lee, the fear of the unknown was the most difficult aspect of her journey through breast cancer.
“We’ve always been close but I feel like it has made us closer. We have a really strong connection. My mom is my best friend,' Lee said. 'I think the hardest part was finding out, because she told me and I was shocked. I kept saying, ‘oh she doesn’t have cancer, she’s going to be fine, it’s not going to be any big deal.’ 'But then whenever she told me she did have cancer, at that point all you know is that your mom has cancer. You don’t know what stage it is, and you don’t know how it’s going to affect her and if she’s going to need chemo or if she’s going to lose her breast or if it’s in the other breast. All you know is that your mom has cancer.”
Despite Lee’s fear, she did her best to stay strong and support her mom. “So I just remember her telling me and (me) being like ‘Okay, well it’s going to be good, it’s going to be great.
We’re going to get through this together.
I’m going to be here with you every step of the way,'” Lee recalled.
“And then just hanging up the phone and pretty much having a breakdown. You want to be strong for that person but you don’t know any of the answers either. So in the back of your mind you’re kind of freaking out because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Once O’Reilly finishes her radiation treatments at the end of October, she will be placed on medication for the next five years, with checkups every three months to ensure she is healing well and the cancer has not returned.
She encourages women to be vigilant with their bodies and not to put off regular checkups. With a daughter of her own, O’Reilly warns women with a family history of breast cancer to start getting regular checks 10 years earlier than when the parent was diagnosed.
“Really, I feel blessed because going four years without a mammogram, it really could have been bad,” O’Reilly said. “That’s my main thing is just don’t put it off… Just stay on top of your health. Just like with Alyssa, since I do have this now and found out in my 50s, she probably needs to start getting checked in her 40s” Through her research, O’Reilly has found that exercise can be key in preventing breast cancer as well as keeping it from reoccurring. She continues to go on walks with her parents to keep up her health as she finishes up her radiation treatments.
“Stay on top of your exams, pay attention to your body, do your self exams,” O’Reilly warns. “If you’re not feeling right or don’t feel good, go to the doctor, get checked out and keep family close because they’re always going to be there for you.
They’re always going to be your best support.
And friends. Friends can be amazing too. I’ve had a lot of really good friends through this.”