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HomeBreast cancer survivor encourages patients not to go it alone

Breast cancer survivor encourages patients not to go it alone

By Max

When Jill McCall was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 37, what got her through that time was remembering the importance of every single day.

McCall was the first person in her family to be diagnosed. She went to her annual physical—which she almost missed due to pneumonia—and it was then that a lump was discovered. At the time it was thought to be calcification, but further testing revealed it to be cancer.

“I felt like it wasn’t real,” said McCall, a North Attleborough resident. “I can barely remember the conversation. I never felt this would happen.”

McCall’s testing was conducted at Faulkner Hospital, and her 11-hour surgery was done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The surgery was extensive, but didn’t involve radiation or chemotherapy. She also had genetic testing for the BRCA gene, which has been linked to breast and ovarian cancer, to ensure her daughters would be safe.

“I was concerned with the odds of them having breast cancer, and they also wanted it (the testing),” said McCall. “Fortunately, it was negative.”

It’s been 12 years this September that McCall was declared cancer-free, and she credits her support network, both from doctors and family. Her mother is a nurse, described as a “super-strong woman,” and encouraged McCall to get the testing done at Faulkner. She comes from a large North Attleborough family, and along with her friends, McCall was confident she would be all right. She was a student at Yarn It All and saw a lot of support there as well.

“Those women were extremely helpful and positive, they were so generous and kind,” she said. “It felt like an extension of my own family.”

McCall said the five years after her surgery were difficult, as the cancer could return during that time. Afterward, the chances are greatly reduced. The first year after the surgery she celebrated with cupcakes and kept doing it each year after. Family and friends joined in, sharing photos on social media. In recent years, other members of her family have been diagnosed, including her mother, who is currently undergoing radiation treatment and working with the same doctors as McCall.

“The moment she knew she had my surgeon, it gave her a sense of comfort,” said McCall.

Time in the hospital imparted a number of lessons for McCall. She decided not to define her life by the disease. When asked what she’d tell someone dealing with their own diagnosis, she’d tell them to not make the mistake of trying to be strong and “crying behind closed doors.” If they have kids, she advises patients to speak with them and prepare for the future.

“No matter what happens, you have to know you’ll get through it,” she said. “It’s going to take time and it’s going to be worth it.”

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