Hartselle woman thrives seven years after cancer diagnosis
Mona Raley lost her hair and her left breast after being diagnosed with HER2–negative breast cancer in 2013.
She said the lump she found on her breast was not alarming at first, but it was something she discovered at the perfect time, as she was scheduled to see her doctor for a routine visit the same week.
The morning she noticed the lump, Raley said she had been raking leaves and tending to her yard. When she came inside, she thought she had been bitten by an insect, and that was causing the tender lump to swell and itch. Two mammograms, an ultrasound and a biopsy – all of which Raley had to undergo in less than a week – would prove otherwise.
It was breast cancer.
Raley said the weeks after were a blur. She had the lump and her left breast removed, and then chemotherapy began. She also underwent reconstructive surgery.
Her tumor was diagnosed at Stage 3B because of its size – it had metastasized to a lymph node, and it affected the surface of her skin. She underwent BRCA testing to determine whether her cancer was hereditary – but she said thankfully it was not.
“The way my doctor explained it to me is I was just someone who developed a tumor. It was just a random luck of the draw,” she said. “The tumor was encapsulated and in one lymph node, so they took it out, too.”
In addition to chemotherapy, Raley also underwent radiation after her surgery.
“I went every Monday for more than three months,” she said. “It was a lot of treatments. A really good friend of mine, Terri Kelsoe, asked to go with me to every treatment. She closed her shop the day my hair started falling out. I went in, and she shaved my head for me.”
Raley said while her journey through breast cancer is not something she would want to do again, living through it has made her realize her strength and has changed her perspective in many ways. She called her experience a humbling one.
“I figured out I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was,” she said. “Looking back, it’s was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but it was so doable. I wouldn’t want to do it again, but it’s good to know you can make it through a tough situation and be better for it.”
Raley added her journey opened her eyes to how her experience and first-hand knowledge can help others, and that’s something she tries to do often.
“I never realized how much of an impact just reaching out and checking on folks can have,” she said. “It was amazing how much the community did for me. I had so many people help me – some people I didn’t even know. Women in the community who just knew someone who knew me would call me up and bring me jewelry – a bracelet like the one they wore when they went through it.
“My neighborhood put signs up, and everyone had pink lights on their porches. People were just so good to me.”