• The story: Erin Maher was featured in 2016.
• Then: Maher was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 14th week of pregnancy. Initially, Maher and her husband, Brandon, thought they might lose the baby, because Maher would need surgery and chemotherapy. Since Maher was in her second trimester, it turned out she could undergo chemotherapy and still carry the baby. Due to the medical treatment, Maher was worried about not being able to breastfeed, as she had done with her eldest, Liam, 4. She turned to the community by using Facebook to solicit breast milk donations, and ended up receiving thousands of ounces of milk. To treat her cancer, Maher underwent 11 rounds of chemotherapy and had a lumpectomy.
• Now: Maher finished her last treatment in December. She said it’s a weird feeling to be done with treatment. The Mahers’ daughter, Illianna, is now 22 months old.
“She’s doing great. She’s a tank,” Maher, 34, said.
Maher is scheduled for a double mastectomy next year. She has no evidence of the disease left, but is still considered in the “danger zone” until next summer — that’s the time during which the odds of her cancer metastasizing, or spreading to other parts of her body, is greatest.
Each year, more than 200,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with breast cancer, including thousands of women in Washington. In honor of their fight — and as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month — The Columbian published this collection of stories about the women who have received breast cancer diagnoses, the science and technological advances for treating them and the community that supports them.
Maher took her kids to the zoo this summer, and the family took a trip to Idaho to visit relatives. In February, she was hired as an early childhood education specialist. That’s a nice return to normalcy for Maher, who had to decrease her workload during cancer treatment.
“It’s awesome having a job again,” Maher said. “It’s really hard when you’re going through treatment. My husband worked so much because I couldn’t contribute. It’s such a financial burden. It’s nice to be able to contribute again. I love my kids, but it has been two years of, like, always being with them, so it’s really nice to get out of the house and get back to work and ironically work with other people’s kids.”
Maher will do six-month checkups for the next three years, and then will get annual checkups every year until 10 years out from the diagnosis. She otherwise has no ongoing breast cancer treatment. Maher said it’s important to find a supportive community that fits you when undergoing treatment, and suggested that people be mindful of the questions they pose to people with breast cancer.
“Tell your family and friends to go to your spouse to ask questions because you’ll answer those questions a million times,” Maher said. “It’s tough because people want to tell you all about their friend who died of cancer, and that’s not OK. I’m still a normal person. Talk to me about normal stuff. And then ask my spouse about the cancer stuff.”