Marilyn Van Houten

Age: 69Marilyn_Van_Houten
Profession: Registered Nurse, President of Rehabilitation Case Management, Inc.
Type of Breast Cancer: Triple Negative Breast Cancer
Number of years as a survivor: 11 years
Relationship to SGK: Volunteer for Komen, Mentor at program funded by Komen

My name is Marilyn and I am an 11 year survivor of Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC). My battle with breast cancer began in May 2005 when I self-detected a lump protruding through my skin. In my case, the lump was not expressed in the mammogram I had a couple of months prior, it seemed to appear out of nowhere!

I quickly learned that I was diagnosed with the most aggressive form of breast cancer, and even though I am a Registered Nurse, I had very little knowledge of breast cancer outside of Hospice nursing. I was frightened. I tried to research and educate myself, but all I came across was that TNBC was aggressive and with tendency to reoccur.

Treatment started the following month, and I continued to fill my spare time with research. During my appointment, I was able to discuss with my physicians what I had read. At the time when most women are vulnerable, experiencing anxiety and fear, I found my knowledge was giving me tremendous power. I felt I had control over treatment decisions.

While I know I had carefully chosen my surgery and treatment plan based on outcome studies, I was not ready for all the side effects. I had the quadrentectomy with total axillary node dissection on June 27, 2005. For the following 8 months of chemotherapy and the subsequent 3 months for radiation, I experienced bouts of neutropenic fever, peripheral neuropathy, chronic fatigue and immune dysfunction. During this time, I choose to keep working as a healthcare case manager and found that while I was helping others with their medical issues I had little time to focus on my pain. Thankfully, I was able to push through.

After a few years of looking for ways to give back, in 2014 I joined The Heroine’s Choir, a joyful group of breast cancer survivors who heal themselves and others through the art of chorale. Once again, I began researching the effect of music on the immune system and gradually found a more enjoyable therapy. My choir has become like a second family! We are showing newly diagnosed women that there is life after diagnoses. Support and comradery is there for anyone who needs it. We don’t dwell on surgeries or treatment, we focus on singing. Our performances, from Komen races to singing the National Anthem at the Miami Heat game, have been exhilarating!

Life is definitely different now; in many ways I’m more enriched. I don’t feel just like a survivor, I feel I’ve THRIVED!

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