For more than three decades, Tara Mahon 45, has been in a “fight with breast cancer” before she herself contracted the disease.
“My mother died at 39 of breast cancer when I was 14, so it was always in my life,” said Tara, who lives in Speonk. “I had a baseline mammogram (the first mammogram used for comparison for follow-up screenings) and a breast MRI at 22 years old and started having annual mammograms at 30 with breast ultrasounds every six months. None of my friends who were my age were doing that.”
Then in July 2019 a mammogram revealed a suspicious mass in her right breast, and a radiologist told Tara she needed a biopsy. “My heart sank, I knew this was not normal,” she recalled. The next day, the radiologist broke the news: the mass was a Stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ, cancer inside the milk duct of her right breast.
“My mother and her [cancer] battle flashed before my eyes,” Tara said. “My 41st birthday was in five days. Was I never going to grow old with my husband or watch my children grow...”
Tara opted for a double mastectomy and says her husband provided support and encouragement every step of the way and accompanied her to each appointment. “He was my ears, my voice and advocate.”
The busy pace of family life kept her mind occupied and helped her cope. “My son was walking, he was a year and a half, and high school had just started for my step-daughter,” she said. “She had volleyball games and the world was not going to stop because Tara had cancer.”
The Coalition of Women’s Cancers at Southampton Hospital also provided support and counseling. Help came in the form of a “positivity group” attended by other cancer survivors, retreats, fundraising events and Coalition-sponsored knitting groups.
Tara says that by sharing her cancer journey with her friends, a number of women who never had mammograms, went and got them. “Did I like going for a mammogram? No, but at the end of the day, you could be saving your own life.”