By Rachel Galvin
Cancer comrades Aniela McGuinness and Nora McMahon didn’t resonate with the idea of being a “survivor” of Cancer. In an effort to find a term that better fit how they felt, they chose Cancer Grad and their website www.CancerGrad.org was born. Aniela, who made it through Breast Cancer, and Nora, who went through Ovarian Cancer share their stories and give important information on their site.
Before this, Aniela recorded the entire process of her Cancer from the very beginning on her YouTube site – MyBreastChoice. Her mother had Breast Cancer at age 46, and at 63 she died from Ovarian Cancer. She had the BRCA1 gene mutation so Aniela decided to get tested too and, at 25, found out that she also had it. With that knowledge, she got checked every six months with a Mammogram and then a breast MRI with the plan of getting her breasts and ovaries removed by 35 (much like Angelina Jolie).
Being a model and actress, and always wanting to educate people, she decided to document her journey as she planned to have her operations performed. While filming one of her episodes of My Breast Choice, she discovered “live” on camera that she actually had Breast Cancer (Stage 1). That was two years ago on Sept. 30. She was 31 years old. The raw video is heartbreaking to watch.
The story of her diagnosis, the procedures that followed and her rollercoaster of emotions was written down and transformed (with the help of co-director/ director Tony Rivera) into a one woman show called I Don’t Have Cancer, which she performed in several locations, including Boca Raton.
She shared every step of the process through her videos, including waking up after surgery, discovering fashions that are more comfortable after surgery and how to make her own drain bag holder. She talks straight about the process, the ups and downs, what worked and didn’t work for her, and how she conquered Cancer with laughter and love.
Aniela had a skin-sparing double mastectomy and 12 sessions of chemotherapy (four sessions of Adriamycin/Cytoxan and nine session of Taxol). She didn’t have to do radiation because she chose to give up her nipples. Afterward, she decided to get a complete hysterectomy as well, just in case.
“My doctors and I chose a very extreme course of action. Most people would do much less, but with my age and family history I didn’t want to risk it,” she said.
You might recognize Aniela. She is in the Autonation, Think Pink, commercial, which is currently running on TV.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Now is the time to go get a mammogram!
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Nora was very active. She was a three-time marathon finisher and raised money for organizations like the American Cancer Society, Alex’s Lemonade Stand and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s oncology department. She was a semi-professional dancer, held a green cord in capoeira, and participated in sports like track and field, volleyball, swimming, softball and basketball, and others.
Then, at 39, she started noticing symptoms. She was tired all the time. She blamed it on her new job. Her lower abdomen felt bloated with pressure and she was constantly running to the bathroom. Eventually, she got it checked out and the doctor noticed something was wrong. She had two ultrasounds – a regular and a vaginal ultrasound and found she had two large masses. One was the size of a grapefruit. The other was the size of a volleyball. When she had major surgery to have them removed, they discovered she had Stage 1C3 Ovarian Cancer. Luckily, it was still confined to the ovaries. She underwent four months of chemotherapy.
“Pap Smears do not detect Ovarian Cancer,” she said, encouraging people to get a CA-125 blood test, which is part of the process toward diagnosis.
She lists some of the risk factors for getting Ovarian Cancer as women who have never had children, never have used oral contraception, have had children after the age of 30, have the BRCA1 gene, or have had certain other types of cancer and medical issues. Nora thinks her risk factor may have been from her having Endometriosis. Her mother also dealt with Cancer in her eye. She knows there is always a chance the Cancer could come back.
She suggests visiting www.ovariancancer.org for additional information, as well as looking at www.Gilda’sClubSouthFlorida.org. Gilda Radner, an actress and comedienne known from Saturday Night Live, lost her battle with Ovarian Cancer in 1989. September was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Check out Cancer Grad to see more about these two inspiring and strong women and find out more information about their journies. Visit www.CancerGrad.org or email them with any questions at email@example.com.