Friday, October 22, 2010
Mollie Conroy, inspiration to all...
In honor of breast cancer awareness month, my sister's salon http://www.lookscompany.com/
is having a spa day with special treats and bonuses for breast cancer patients and survivors. They are featuring my mom, and about 70% of their proceeds for the day are going to go to my mom (who will probably turn around and regift it to Susan G. Komen). My sister's work asked her to write a bio for my mom, but since she knows that words are my talent, she asked me to write it. Here is what I wrote:
Seven years ago, the battle of a beloved local teacher and mother began.
On January 1, 2004, Mollie Conroy was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer after finding a lump on her left breast. A prompt lumpectomy was scheduled and doctors removed several lymph nodes as well. Further biopsy of the lymph nodes showed 4 out of 17 to be cancerous.
Mollie, a Broken Arrow South Intermediate High School Law Teacher, Mock Trial coach and mother of 3 children, was determined to be in stage III of breast cancer. Of the four stages of cancer, stage III usually means the cancer is larger, and may have started to spread into surrounding tissues and there are cancer cells in the lymph nodes in the area.
“I had many sleepless nights. I still had a 9-year-old son at home to raise,” said Mollie.
When she recovered from surgery, she quickly started a dose dense treatment of chemotherapy. Amazingly, Mollie, once honored as SIHS’s Teacher of the Year, continued to teach half-days for the remainder of the semester. “By the end of the semester, I was a zombie. By final exams, my sub just took over. I was too sick. I was so grateful for that.”
Mollie underwent chemo followed by radiation through the end of September. During these months, she lost all her hair and struggled with many of the other side effects of cancer treatment, including digestion problems, a compromised immune system, intermittent fevers, extreme fatigue, and joint pain among many other discomforts.
In the Fall of 2004, she attended Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure in Tulsa. She related, “It was like a big pep rally. I even felt comfortable enough taking off my cap in public for the first time. It was humbling to see how many people were supportive of what I thought of as my own private battle.”
However, despite her battle, Mollie’s thoughts continued to turn to her family. “I saw a teenage boy with ‘In Memory of My Mother’ on the back of his shirt. I thought, ‘I never want my own son to go through that.” Later that fall, a CAT scan came back all clear. There was no active cancer left in Mollie’s body.
Mollie had a 3 year respite from cancer, but her fight was a long way from over. In the Spring of 2007, she felt some bumps on the left side of her collarbone. Unfortunately, a PET scan showed that the cancer had spread to her left ribs and lymph nodes at the base of her neck. The cancer had metastasized and Mollie was upgraded to a Stage IV. Even through another round of chemo, Mollie continued to teach high school, taking off as needed. Her doctor advised her to retire, but she refused. “I loved my job,” she said.
But at the end of the school year, after doctors removed a benign growth on her fallopian tubes, she realized that she had missed a total of 20 days of school that year. Feeling that her students deserved more, she submitted her retirement paperwork in 2008. She left her students and the Mock Trial team she had started and coached for BAHS for 10 years.
Mollie’s work in education didn’t end with her teaching career, however. In 2007, she volunteered with Families and Communities Empowered for Safety (FACES) and created “Hometown Heroes: Teachers Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect,” an in-service program making teachers aware of signs and behavior to look for in abuse victims and the responsibilities they have to report suspected abuse. She has also served on the Board of Directors for FACES twice, as well as periodically returned to assist the BAHS Mock Trial team as a volunteer.
In the fall of 2009, a check-up CAT scan revealed that Mollie’s cancer had returned yet again, showing 6 tumors in her lung. For the third time, she started chemo, this time on new drugs, Abraxane and Avastin. By February 2010, the drugs reduced her tumors and were no longer visible on a CAT scan. She stayed on a maintenance dose until the FDA removed Avastin from the market for breast cancer patients.
Once off the treatment, her tumors returned again rapidly. This time Mollie found a Clinical Trial in Dallas, TX for a new treatment, promising great results for triple-negative cancer patients. “I entered what felt like the lottery, and I was chosen,” she said. Mollie is currently driving to Dallas twice a month to receive treatment.
Through all she has been through, Mollie continues to inspire others with her optimism. “I feel very fortunate to be able to get [this new treatment]. One of my friends with the same type of cancer I have didn’t live long enough to participate in this clinical trial. She wanted to do it, but when she applied, they told her she was too far along. She passed away in early 2010,” Mollie confided. “I feel relatively blessed. I have a husband supporting me so I could have the luxury of retiring. So far, I have no long-term side effects of treatment. I never struggled with depression. I became closer to the Lord during this time, and I became bolder saying so. My family has been my number one support team, and I also received support from my church and the kids in my classes. My cancer brought out the best in people.”