Savin Hill survivor gears up for Breast Cancer walk, calls mammograms a must

The American Cancer Society will host its "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" walk this Sunday along Boston's Charles River. The annual fundraising event, designed to support research into the cause and cure of breast cancer, begins at 8 a.m. at the Hatch Shell on the Charles River Esplanade, and continues in a rolling two hour start until 10 a.m. The walk is expected to attract thousands of walkers from among cancer survivors and their families and friends.

One Savin Hill woman is planning to join the walk this year for the first time. Cathleen McDermott is a cancer survivor, and she says she is encouraging her family and friends to join her this Sunday.

"I am a breast cancer survivor," she told the Reporter this week. "I want to tell people to make sure they get their mammograms. If I had not gotten mine last year, my cancer would not have been detected. As I result I received the best of care from the people at the Faulkner Breast Center and the people at the Dana Farber."

 McDermott said she had undergone annual mammograms for more than 15 years. In the summer of 2007, she went  for the tests again.

"I had had issues over the years, and they told me they wanted me to go back in for another test. And I did and I wasn't concerned because they had asked me to come back in some and have some pictures taken."

Initial tests led to an ultrasound, and then, she says, "they decided they wanted to aspirate what they had seen on the film, and that too didn't concern me because they had done that before. But when they started to aspirate and nothing was aspirating, I was lying there on the table and saying I know this isn't good."

Like most cancer patients, the days and weeks ahead came with a chronology that she can recall in fine detail. She remembers the exact moment she received the cell phone call with the diagnosis. "It was August 2, 2007. It was 5 o'clock and I was about to leave the office."

The dates remain fixed in her memory: "I went for my surgery on Aug. 16, and then I went through a battery of tests to make sure that the cancer hadn't spread anywhere. And thank God it hadn't.

"I started my chemo Sept. 26. And I had four rounds of chemo. My last chemo was on Nov. 27. Three weeks after that I started herception, a new drug that they use with chemo to insure that it won't come back. I started my radiation treatment Dec. 14 through Feb. 5."

During the chemotherapy treatments, she quickly lost her hair. "It was coming out in clumps. I am not a bandana kind of person;  I had my wig on all the time."

But even as she went through her medical struggles, McDermott said she sought to keep the news private.

"I kept a very low profile," she said.  "I told my children, my siblings, I told a few of my neighbors in case anything ever happened and I needed help. And I told my co-workers, because if I was going to be MIA, I wanted them to know what was happening."

Through it all, she kept her job at Boston College, missing just three weeks following surgery and taking just a day away from work on the chemo days. " On the days of chemo, I would return home to Savin Hill and rest for the rest of the day, and then be up and walking around."

McDermott's daughter, Deirdre Habershaw has told friends about her mom's experience, and she continues to recruit for folks to join her at the walk this Sunday. On her Facebook page, Habershaw says: "Why am I walking? This may be news to you, but in August of last year, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. If you know my mom, and you didn't know, I am sure you are shocked to hear this. For the last year you would never have guessed that she was undergoing chemo, radiation, and herception treatments.

"She fared them all so well not only because of her natural resiliency, but also because of the remarkable care that she received from the team at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the Faulkner Breast Care Center.

My mom is now cancer free and feeling great. She has decided to do this walk as a way of giving back and supporting the ongoing research funded by the American Cancer Society. I have been by her side during her journey through treatment, so I found it appropriate to join her in this one."

McDermott says,  "I think the walk is important because it raises the money needed to come up with new treatments and ultimately a cure." She says she feels the urge now to make her story known, and to encourage other women to be proactive about cancer detection. "I want people to know about this because I think it is very important to get a mammogram," she says. "I never heard anyone say 'Yay,  I am going to get a mammogram,' but truth be known, it can save your life.

"I know it did for me."

To support the McDermott/Habersaw team this Sunday, get details at tinyurl.com/makingstrides-habershaw.