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Published on January 30, 2014

Mary Rehak: A Breast Cancer Survivor’s Journey, A Year Later

Mary RehakAbout a year ago, Mary Rehak, DeKalb, felt a sensation under her right armpit. Since there was some swelling and an unusual recurring pain, Mary did a breast self-exam. Mary said, “I found a rather large lump in my right breast.” They were heading to Florida for the Orange Bowl and she told her husband Bob that she would call the doctor when they returned home. But she waited and called after her birthday on Jan. 11, 2012, as they were planning a trip to Seattle. She scheduled a yearly physical appointment and a bone density appointment, followed by a mammogram appointment at Kishwaukee Hospital.

While at the bone density exam, Mary mentioned to the tech, that she had a regular mammogram scheduled because I had a lump. “She right away asked me if I had told my doctor and why was I scheduled for a regular mammogram instead of the diagnostic mammogram, which is the type of mammogram needed when you have a lump,” recalled Mary. “That was the moment the game changed. I owe her so much, as she really got the ball rolling for me. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the doctor's office waiting for the script to get the diagnostic mammogram. That was Friday, Feb. 22. Within three days, I was getting the mammogram and an ultra-sound and the next day I had a biopsy. The results came back on Feb. 28. On the following Monday I had a PET scan.”

Mary was diagnosed with early stage 3 breast cancer. She had three tumors, all on the right side. They range in size from 2-3 cm, to 3-4 cm. Two of the tumors were in her armpit and one was in her breast.

On March 13, Mary received her first chemo, the first of six rounds, with one every three weeks, for a total of 18 weeks. Chemo was scheduled to end in July, on her 30th wedding anniversary. It wasn’t at all how Mary and her husband thought they would celebrate their anniversary, as the original plan had been a trip to Italy. But travels were put on hold for Mary’s treatments.

Despite her diagnosis, Mary has remained positive throughout her cancer journey. “I have found out more about my community than I realized was here,” said Mary. Mary has been an inspiration to others, including speaking at Relay For Life and her church. And so many have prayed for and reached out to Mary with care and love. She said, “I’m a better person for having cancer. This experience so far is a gift; if I ever needed to know I was loved, I do not need to know today, as I am loved by many!”

Mary is pleased with the care she has received at the KishHealth System Cancer Center. “We have learned so much, about cancer, the love of great caring nurses, staff, and doctors; and the benefits of staying in town to receive treatments at the Cancer Center at Kishwaukee Hospital. My journey with cancer was far from terrible, the staff, nurses and doctors at KishHealth System made a life-threatening situation doable. They always answered my questions and directed my concerns immediately. Jodi, my nurse navigator was amazing! I thought all hospitals had someone filling this position, I found out that is not the case, and KishHealth System has one of the only nurse navigators in our area.”

Mary continued, “While in Dr. Siddiqui’s care, I was the number one priority, and I did not have to leave DeKalb to receive excellent care. With our Cancer Center so close, I was able to walk to my treatments; family and friends would sit with me during my chemo treatments; and you can even have a meal! Your care is not only important to your physician, but even to Elena at the front desk who will greet you. We are blessed to have caring, knowledgeable, competent, connected networking doctors in our community ready to offer excellent and individual care, while dealing with difficult life-changing situations.”  

Her advice to others: “After treatment care is just as important. I have participated in a few of the meals, support groups, and the exit program. All of these programs have assisted me and my husband with additional information necessary to recover from my breast cancer.” Mary said, “I am the first of all the females in my family and extended family to have cancer. If I only had one phrase to leave you with, it would be please do those breast self-exams every month, and get your mammograms yearly! I waited too long.” 

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