Marilyn May was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997 after seeing two different radiologists and surgeons to find the care and treatment that felt right for her. Seventeen years and two additional cancer diagnoses later, Marilyn simply refuses to let metastatic breast cancer keep her from living a full life. Whether traveling across the globe or sharing her passion for art with her students, Marilyn fights her battle by squeezing the most joy out of every single day.
“I’ve already gone through two or three bucket lists,” says Marilyn, a retired schoolteacher who lives in Ventura and also teaches English as a Second Language. Art is her first love, and she currently teaches seniors in Ventura and elementary schoolchildren in the Rio School District. “No matter how tired I am it energizes me,” she says. Marilyn has also explored the world, traveling to Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, India and more.
Now age 72, Marilyn has packed so much into her life since her first diagnosis 17 years ago. After monitoring a shadow on her mammogram, and through a difficult process of finding the right healthcare team, Marilyn underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Nine years later, she had severe pain in her leg for nine months before an MRI showed cancer in her hip and femur, requiring an 11-day hospital stay and 25 days of radiation.
Throughout her cancer journey, Marilyn and her husband have found solace in several local groups. Marilyn attends and now volunteers for American Cancer Society’s Reach to Recovery program, which has a Simi Valley-based group for women with metastatic breast cancer. The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Comedy Night series offered by the Cancer Support Community have also helped Marilyn and her husband.
For almost nine years Marilyn has also attended a support group offered by the Cancer Support Community and St. John’s Hospital in Oxnard. Marilyn and her husband both attended Cancer Support Community groups in Camarillo as well.
“The groups help so much,” says Marilyn. “My husband found out in his group that everyone’s going through the same experience as him and he felt free to say everything he needed to say, and not be afraid that he would hurt or offend me. And I was able to talk about all the different areas that I didn’t want to discuss with him.”
Last year Marilyn underwent a bilateral mastectomy after her doctor discovered a different type of breast cancer. “I never again wanted to go through the anxiety of waiting for tests and appointments and results, so I opted for the mastectomy,” says Marilyn. Although the cancer has spread to her liver and shoulders, Marilyn is still as active as ever, and holding out hope for a medication that she was approved for in September through a program that allows compassionate use of certain drugs not yet on the market.
“Even though I feel a little closer to the end I rejoice in every day and I am very grateful for my friends and family who get me to my treatments and send me funny jokes,” says Marilyn. “Every day is a joyous day.”