Michelle Morin Wilkinson never thought she’d get breast cancer, even though both her mother and grandmother have battled the disease.
“It just never occurred to me,” Wilkinson said. “I mean, I took precautions. I got mammograms every year from the time I was 30. But I never expected anything to happen.”
So it came as a surprise when Wilkinson, a single mother of three boys living in Cicero, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer on Jan. 30 after a routine doctor’s appointment.
“I went in for my annual pap smear, and my doctor sent me immediately for a mammogram and sonogram,” she said. “Then they referred me immediately to a breast surgeon.”
By the time Wilkinson had the surgery March 4, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes; of 20 she had removed along with the tumor in her left breast, eight were positive. She just finished her eighth round of chemotherapy last week, and she’ll undergo a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in August, followed by six weeks of radiation.
“At this point, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Wilkinson said.
Though her surgeon and oncologist have declared Wilkinson cancer-free, she’ll also have her ovaries removed as a precaution against developing ovarian cancer. Her doctors are taking that extra step because Wilkinson tested positive for BRCA-1, a human gene, some mutations of which are associated with a significant increase in the risk of breast and other cancers. A woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2. Such a woman has an increased risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer at an early age (before menopause) and often, like Wilkinson, has multiple, close family members who have been diagnosed with these diseases. Harmful BRCA1 mutations may also increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical, uterine, pancreatic and colon cancer.
Wilkinson’s mother, Sharon Morin, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in June of 2007. She has since been in remission after radiation treatment and surgery, though she continues to suffer the ill effects of burns suffered during radiation treatment.
Mary Akley, Wilkinson’s grandmother and Morin’s mother, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in November 1982. After a year and a half of chemotherapy, Akley was declared cancer-free, though she continues to take medication, as do her daughter and granddaughter, to try to keep the disease at bay.
“My doctor called me his miracle patient,” Akley said. “It was in my bones, but I still survived.”
That gives Wilkinson hope for her own prognosis.
“She’s my hero,” Wilkinson said of her grandmother.
Wilkinson is also bolstered by help from her friends, who have helped her by chauffeuring her two younger boys around, providing meals and planning a benefit.
“They’ve just been amazing,” she said. “It’s actually kind of overwhelming.”
The benefit, organized by Wilkinson’s friend Darci LaRose, will take place from 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday Aug. 2 at the Cicero American Legion, 5575 Legionnaire Drive, preceded by a motorcycle ride at 11 a.m. Tickets will be available at the benefit for $10 per person or $25 per family; children under 5 are free. There will be food, a silent auction, Chinese auction, prizes and a 50/50 raffle.
“People have put in a lot of work,” Morin said. “I mean, how do you thank these people?
While her friends have provided much support, Wilkinson’s anchor is her faith.
“I’ve had my doubts sometimes,” she admitted. “My husband committed suicide when I was pregnant with my third child, and this [cancer diagnosis] has been a challenge. But God is a good God. Cancer did not come from God. I’ve learned to grow in my faith.”
Wilkinson said she’s so grateful for everything she does have, from her boys — Trevin, 21, Mikey, 9, and Noah, 7 — to her mother and grandmother to her friends and the support she gets from her boys’ school, Smith Road Elementary, to, most of all, God’s love.
“I know God is a loving God, and that this too shall pass,” she said. “That’s what gets me through, knowing that there’s always hope.”
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.