Mom’s Approach to Breast Cancer: Keep it Positive

Between 2019 and 2020, Courtney Lamb of Marlborough, MA, went through chemo, radiation and multiple surgeries to treat Stage 3 breast cancer. Then she got long COVID before vaccines were available and faced a pandemic-related furlough from her nursing job. Any one of these is a lot; all three are an awful lot.

But Courtney, just 37 at the time of her cancer diagnosis, approached each threat to health and home as you might expect from a mom in the midst of child-rearing: No giving up. No matter what.

“I have three young children, and I make it a point to not let them see me down and out,” she said. “With cancer, they knew I would feel sick and uncomfortable, but they saw I was still smiling and that I could still do stuff with them. And when I couldn’t, my Mom or their Dad were there for them.”

For Courtney’s younger sons, Myles and Jacoby, now 10 and 8, it was enough to hear that doctors felt she was going to be OK. “I told them I had a treatment plan and that my oncologist was very, very hopeful,” she said. “That was the right amount of information for them to take in at the time.”

While a breast cancer diagnosis at age 37 was unexpected and scary, Courtney said she did not let it enter her thoughts that she would die. In talking with her oldest son, Jayden, she said she looked at cancer as a huge bump in the road of life. “I did not hide my emotions,” she said, “but I also would not feel sorry for myself.”

But it was harder for Jayden, now 17. “My older son struggled a bit. He wanted to know all the details,” Courtney said. “He worries still … what if it would come back?”

As an RN, Courtney knows cancer can return—but with the odds for continued health strongly in her favor, she is focusing on healing. She wishes that for Jayden, too.

“Even now, if I see him struggling with things, I say, ‘Do you remember when I was going through my treatments? And how I got through it? I made a point to be positive and happy.'”

This was her path to moving forward; any other approach would have put too much emphasis on the “heaviness of cancer.” Courtney said, “If I had let it weigh me down, I may not have had the same outcome. I tend to think that people who don’t have support, or the ability to stay positive and remain hopeful, have a harder time making it through.”

Courtney said the love and support of her mother, Eileen, has always been a constant, but throughout many months of treatment for breast cancer, including surgery, radiation and chemo, Courtney relied on her mom to help keep life as normal as possible for her three sons.

Courtney had extreme support from family and friends, with her mom, Eileen, at the center of that universe. “I could not have gone through this without my Mom,” Courtney said. “The cancer scared her, so she threw herself into being Grandma. That was her position, and that’s how she helped me. I knew my kids were always somewhere safe, with someone who loved them. It took such a load off my mind.”

Courtney also remains grateful for how her husband, Raheim, kept the kitchen running—no mean feat with three growing boys in the house—and for the wisdom of a friend who had just been through breast cancer when Courtney was diagnosed. And then there was her sister, who went to nearly all of Courtney’s appointments and “took notes upon notes on her phone.”

“Being a nurse, I may have had a higher level of knowledge about some things,” Courtney said. “But I was really a patient so focused on getting answers to questions I had in my head that I didn’t know how much information I missed.” Every time they reviewed her sister’s notes, Courtney found herself saying, “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t hear the doctor say any of that.”

Throughout treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, she sometimes wavered on whether to disclose that she was a nurse. Courtney said, “If they would say, ‘Oh, you’re a nurse. You know that,’ I would answer, ‘No, please, I’m not an oncology nurse. Can you explain everything to me as you would to anyone else?'”

Through parts of her cancer treatment, Courtney was able to continue working as a nurse at a care facility. “I’d go to work, leave to go to radiation, and then go back to work,” she said. “I didn’t want other people feeling bad and sorry for me; I knew I just had to follow the treatment plan and come out the other side.”

While her medical training was helpful in navigating her treatment plan, and her positive outlook set the tone for the family, breast cancer was not easy. “Just because I carry it well doesn’t mean it’s not heavy,” Courtney said.

Reflecting on post-cancer life in her CaringBridge Journal, she wrote, “No one ever tells you that once active treatment is over there will be daily reminders and consequences. The ‘new me’ has scars that start from the center of my chest and wrap around past my armpits, and all over my torso. I can’t lift my arms as high as I used to. My skin is darker and tougher where the radiation hit. I will take a chemo pill every day for the next 10 years.”

But she is gradually adjusting. “I am very aware that I will never have the same life again,” Courtney said. “I am also very grateful that I still have my life to live.”

This “attitude of gratitude” after cancer helped get Courtney through COVID—and long COVID—and a work furlough at the height of the pandemic in 2020. “It was not fun, but what compares to radiation, chemo and surgery?” she said.

In order to set a tone of positivity for her sons Myles, left, and Jacoby, Courtney said she refused to think, “Poor me, why am I going through cancer?” Instead, she told herself, “OK, this is happening. How am I going to get through it?”

Not one to sit idle, Courtney started a master’s program in nursing while on furlough and came upon a job more compatible with her family’s schedule. Rather than working at a care facility, she is now a school nurse in the district where her boys are students. (And yes, she knows she may enjoy the close proximity more than her sons!)

Even with less time, she is having more fun and giving back, including a whitewater rafting trip with other cancer survivors, and signing up for a church mission trip to the Dominican Republic to volunteer her nursing skills.

Courtney said, “I told my sister about this latest trip, and she jokingly said, ‘Are you having a midlife crisis? Why are you going to all these places?’ And I just answered, ‘You know, why wouldn’t I? I went through something that could have killed me. But I’m here. And I’m alive.'”

  • Mary Wright

    Thank you for this article. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a month ago and had first 8-hour chemo/immuno IV one week ago. Very helpful to read how someone else got through this with a positive attitude. Surrounding myself with POSITIVITY will get me through this year and beyond. And it’s tough while dealing with the side effects of chemo and the enormity of breast cancer. THANKS!!

  • Mary Wright

    Thank you for this article. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a month ago and had first 8-hour chemo/immuno IV one week ago. Very helpful to read how someone else got through this with a positive attitude. Surrounding myself with POSITIVITY will get me through this year and beyond. And it’s tough while dealing with the side effects of chemo and the enormity of breast cancer. THANKS!!

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  • Brenda Guest

    Very encouraging! Loved reading your journey review. God bless your precious life and family.

  • Megan nguyen

    Sending you so much love and strength, you are much stronger than you think you are! Have faith and stay strong lovely! ❤️💕💖🙏

  • cassidy vanvickle

    my step father struggled with cancer and he is raising my autistic son.

  • Nancy "Fluttermama" Werner

    Best of all healing, comforting wishes and prayers to you, Courtney. I am currently in remission from 2 different cancers (breast cancer 2X, Waldenstroms 1X) – if I can do it at age 65 so can you! It’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You hang in there and stay positive and enjoy life as much as possible – kick cancer’s sorry ass WAY down the road and over the cliff!

  • SHERRI LEE JORDAN

    Thank you for sharing! I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Breast cancer in March 2021 and had 2 surgeries and went through chemo. I’m encouraged by the other women in my family who have lived very long lives after being diagnosed. My mom lived 43 years (passing away at 83 yrs old). Her sister Betty will celebrate her 94th birthday in March and she was diagnosed when she was around 67. My cousin is going on 24 years. You CAN live a very long life after diagnosis! You got this!
    You can read about my journey at caringbridge.org/sherrijordan.

  • Joanne

    Soy médico, tengo 50 años, y diagnosticada con cáncer de mama, ya estoy en mi 5ta quimioterapia. Gracias por apoyar en esta carrera de superación

  • Linda A.

    What a story — what a ride! You are a STRONG young woman. I could never do this with a smile. But I know when it comes down to it you do what you got to do. And ALLaround you suffer too…. And their love and smiles carry you through…. God continue to bless you and your beautiful family.

  • R Haime

    Thank you for sharing. I am just beginning my journey. Stage 3 too. I am also a health care provider. I need to make some alterations too. I appreciate you sharing very much. Take good care.

  • Joy Pierce

    Thank you for this inspiring story!
    I am now a caregiver to my husband who had to quit work one day suddenly after having a stroke, which was not diagnosed for two weeks, though we sought medical treatment. I am interested in the book on Caregiving. Can you share how to get it?
    Thank you,
    jbpierce@gmail.com

  • St. Michael Mambaian

    Now that’s the FIGHTING spirit!

  • Gwen Hannes

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so glad you have such a good support team. I went through a very similar experience and it’s so hard. I’m 11 years out. We got this!

  • Ashish Sitapara

    Thank you Courtney and CaringBridge. I needed to hear this resolve and positive spirit before bed tonight. My wife was just diagnosed with Breast Cancer and we are only at the beginning of this difficult path. Your story will put a smile on my face before I put my head on my pillow and wonder about my wife and our lives ahead.

  • Angie Mendenhall

    Thank you Courtney for giving me hope today, I start chemo December 27th and feel like reaching out to anyone who has been through this. Many blessings to you and your family. Merry Christmas! 🎄

  • Helen Stimson

    Courtney, you are nothing short of a rock star when it comes to courage and attitude. What an example you are to your sons and to all those around you. God bless you for continuing to stay strong and positive and for not letting cancer whip you around like a kite in the wind. You will be included in my daily prayers.

  • Chris

    I admire you and your willingness to share your journey. I also survived cancer this past year, second time around. The love and support of family and my faith is what got me thru. the posts on Caring Bridge were there when I most needed a boost. I know cancer can return but I don’t let that fear rule how I live. Thank you for sharing your story and thanks to my “special care giver”, my niece.

  • Jacqueline

    Such an inspiring story for this Mom of a 37-year-old daughter who has just been diagnosed with a recurrence. Thank you, and so glad Courtney is now a school nurse. Best job ever, and blessed that I’m about to retire from it so that I can take care of my grandkids while my daughter goes through her treatment.