Hermione Malone: Breast Cancer Survivor

Her Story ~

“For most people, the year 2020 will be memorable for the COVID-19 global pandemic that shut down schools and workplaces, brought our health systems to the brink of collapse and claimed tens of thousands of lives. As the head of a nonprofit organization serving entrepreneurs – nearly all of whom were struggling to keep income flowing and workers hired – my biggest challenge was continuing to serve our hundreds of clients remotely, while keeping my staff from burning out as a result of the frenzy. Or, so I thought. 

I joke that I almost made it out of the year of COVID-19 unscathed. But a routine October mammogram became a diagnostic mammogram, then an ultrasound. By the time a biopsy was ordered, I was almost certain I was staring at a breast cancer diagnosis. On October 22, I got the news I figured was coming my way – I had breast cancer, and a particularly fast-growing type. Before Thanksgiving, I’d begin chemotherapy, to be followed by surgery and radiation. 

The idea that no experience is ever wasted was doubly true for me in that I’d spent nearly five years working for a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center while living in Cleveland. I not only understood well the process I was to undertake, I knew enough to find the closest NCI Comp Cancer Center to seek a second opinion from. These centers have the most access to treatment modalities and clinical trials. As well, because of the volume of cases they see, they have extremely proficient teams with typically excellent outcomes. I was fortunate that the top-ranked cancer hospital in America was a short drive away in Houston at MD Anderson. I ultimately split my treatment between New Orleans and  Houston and think I had the best outcomes as a result. 

I was blessed with an abundance of support – from friends near and far to family – especially my mother who relocated to New Orleans for 9 months to help me get through treatment. There are still a few long-term impacts of my cancer treatment that I have had to learn to deal with, but the notion that I can do hard things is more than an empowering slogan. It’s my lived experience. 

I’m better able to evaluate things that are worthy of my energy, and those that aren’t. I have a refreshed perspective on the things that truly matter. Cancer took a lot from me, but it gave me a few things as well. I used to have a sign on my desk that read “Hard Things Are Hard”. It comes from a story I read about how David Axelrod, senior advisor to President Obama, gave him a plaque with the same words as encouragement during the fight to pass the Affordable Care Act. At the time I heard that story, I was working on some pretty hard work things myself. And now, that message is applicable to my cancer journey as well. Only now, I know I can do hard things.”