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Michelle Wilsey, 29, of
Scottsdale is currently
fighting breast cancer.
One Woman’s Battle
Against Breast Cancer
Written by Julie Stone
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“I had breast cancer for three years and had no idea,” says Michelle Wilsey, 29, of
Scottsdale. She was like many young women in the Valley — a young professional
working for P.F. Chang’s corporate office, spending her time making weekend
trips to Las Vegas and living with her boyfriend of three years, Jake Berry. But
everything changed in April of this year when Wilsey was diagnosed with Stage
II breast cancer.
With the diagnosis came the reality of harsh treatments. She now faces the
physical and emotional effects of having both her breasts surgically removed and
the loss of her hair due to chemotherapy. As Wilsey goes through this, though, she
is motivated now more than ever to survive her ordeal and help others by spreading
the word about the effects of breast cancer on young women.
The Susan G. Komen Phoenix affiliate is also reaching out to a younger audience
by speaking to women about the importance of early detection. And Wilsey, with a
newfound purpose in life, is dedicated to raising awareness in other young women
through her personal story.
When Wilsey first found the lump, she went to a doctor who said he didn’t feel
anything. It was because of the encouragement from her boyfriend that she went
to a different doctor to get a second opinion. “I didn’t really want to know the truth,
so I went for him, basically,” Wilsey says.
PH O T O GR APH Y B Y
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M AK E U P B Y
The second opinion ended up being crucial
because the results were staggering. “My first doctor
said my tumor was 2.1 centimeters and [her second
doctor] said my tumor was 4.5 centimeters. My tumor
ended up being 5.5 centimeters.”
Immediately, Wilsey found herself immersed
in a world she never imagined entering. She had a
double mastectomy on June 23 of this year, which
was followed by her chemotherapy sessions. Her last
chemo is on October 24 and after that she continues
with radiation treatments until the end of December.
Dealing with the loss of both her breasts and most
of hair (her eyebrows and eyelashes are thinning out),
Wilsey was faced with the emotional distress that
comes with a different self-image.
“It’s hard being 29 and having to have both your
breasts removed and having to deal with the self-image
and the emotional part of it,” says Wilsey. The thought
of losing both her breasts was difficult to overcome,
but understanding the sacrifices she had to make to
save her life, she opted for the surgery.
“At first I thought there’s no way I can have
and Bethany Home Road in Phoenix, cancer patients
now have a convincing and comfortable hair piece to
wear. Motivated by a beloved employee, Nancy Scott,
who passed away from breast cancer in August 2007,
the NHC office takes pride in making those who are
sick feel better about their appearances.
“With the National Hair Center, I feel like a girl
when I’m wearing this. I feel like a pretty woman,” says
Wilsey. “And I think that’s so important, especially
when you’re feeling like crap and you don’t have your
breasts anymore, feeling pretty is so important.”
Wilsey has found support through many people
— her family, boyfriend, friends and co-workers.
Wilsey also attends a support group at Virginia G.
Piper Cancer Center at Scottsdale Healthcare as well
as regularly visiting a personal counselor.
“People always ask me if I’m mad at God because
he gave me this thing and I would say, I’m not,” says
Wilsey. “I’m happy because it’s changed who I am. For
a long time I had issues, like what is the point of you
being here alive? Why are we here? For me, I know
why God gave me this. I need to make a difference
“For me, I know why God gave me this. I need to
make a difference in other young women’s lives.”
— Michelle Wilsey
everything removed. Then I met quite a few women
who showed me [that] it’s doable and it’s worth saving
your life.” Right now she has expanders in (temporary
breast implants that go in under the muscle) then after
her radiation she will receive silicon breast implants
and tattooed nipples. Wilsey continues to take control
of her situation by opting for every treatment she can.
This includes chemotherapy, which proved to be more
difficult to deal with than Wilsey originally thought.
Used to kill any rapidly dividing cells,
chemotherapy doesn’t just affect cancerous cells.
According to Breastcancer.org, the cells in hair, blood,
mouth, nose, nails and vagina rapidly divide as well,
which means all are affected by the treatment. This
is why chemotherapy patients lose their hair, and it is
generally thought to be one of the hardest side affects
of chemotherapy to emotionally overcome.
“The loss of the hair was probably the most
difficult thing when it comes to self-image,” says Rita
Block, 53, a board member for the Susan G. Komen
Phoenix Affiliate and a breast cancer survivor. “The
thought of losing my hair was really difficult.”
Block will celebrate 12 years of being cancer-free
in March 2009. “When it was supposed to start falling
out, I bought shears and I shaved it,” says Block.
“Then finally a friend of mine said you have to go [get a
wig].” But wigs from 12 years ago weren’t the highest
of quality and Block often had problems with it.
She jokes about how poorly made wigs used
to be, but thanks to the efforts of the National Hair
Center, located on the southwest corner of 7th Street
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OCTOBER 2 0 0 8
in other young women’s lives.”
Block walked away with the same hopefulness
and need to help others. “It’s very cliché, but it made
me a better person,” says Block. “I think it makes you
and your whole family think just how precious life is. Do
you tend to get back into that rhythm and forget? Yeah,
you do. But I appreciate the level it took me to.”
Extending the appreciation to others, Block and
her colleagues at Susan G. Komen here in Phoenix are
working to get the word out to a younger audience.
They preach early detection through self-examination
and they want to alert everyone that breast cancer
can, and does, happen to young women.
“We like to focus on younger women, saying it’s not
the old lady’s disease,” says Block. “When I go talk to
women, I say, check your breasts every month. Know
what’s normal and what’s not. Know your breasts and
know the lumps that have been there.”
For everyone, the Susan G. Komen Race for
the Cure is an event for people to come together
to show support. The NHC put together a group in
honor of Wilsey to walk in the Race for the Cure on
the 12th of this month. Though Wilsey will be too
tired to participate in the Race for the Cure or the
PF Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in January, she
promises she will make it to the next ones.
“Attitude is everything,” Wilsey says. “I doubted
myself for years. And now that I have this, I love
Learn more about Michelle at
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Tips for Checking
1. Check breasts every month
so you know what your
breasts normally feel like.
2. The upper, outer area near
your armpit tends to have
the most prominent lumps.
3. The lower half of the breast
should feel like a sandy or
4. The area under the nipple
usually feels like a collection
of large grains.
5. If any changes last more
than a full month’s cycle, go
see your doctor.
6. Remember that eight out
of 10 lumps women feel
in their breasts are benign
(not cancerous) but if you’re
worried, seeing a doctor will
ease your fears.
7. Know your family history
and other personal risk
factors. Breast cancer is
personalized and not the
same for everyone.
8. Get second and third
Young women have
many factors working
against them …
1. Most young women don’t
check for breast cancer
because it’s a common
misconception that it affects
2. Breast cancer is more
aggressive in younger
3. Due to infrequent self-exams
and the aggression of cancer
in young women, a lump can
grow to a more threatening
size before they will finally
have it checked by a doctor.
4. Young women have more
dense breasts than women
over 40. Mammograms don’t
always detect tumors in
young women for this reason,
which is why many doctors
prefer doing MRIs on women