When Erica Saunders of New Castle discovered a lump in her breast not long after running the Boston Marathon, her gynecologist immediately sent her for an ultrasound and biopsy.
The diagnosis: Stage 1 breast cancer.
Saunders was only 43.
Three years later, she’s now a survivor who is active in the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s Young Survivors in Action program. It helps younger women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. The group is highlighting members all month.
“Early detection is key!” said Saunders. “Going through the treatment process was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do.”
But there were intangible benefits.
“It taught me patience,” she said. “It deepened my faith in God and taught me how to be persistent with my prayers.”
The mother of four — 15-year-old twins, a 19-year-old and a 21-year old — Saunders works in quality control at Bank of America. She attended the University of Delaware before earning her degree from Wilmington University.
During her treatment, she said she felt the love of God in a tangible way through the outpouring of love and support from friends and family.
“And, most importantly, it helped me discover an inner strength I never knew that I had,” she said.
Saunders had a lumpectomy, followed by radiation.
“Going through radiation treatment was painful,” she said. “Doubt and fear of the unknown made it uncomfortable.”
She learned, she said, “Just breathe and take it day-by-day, one treatment at a time. No need in stressing over something you can’t control.”
Saunders said she wished she had trusted the process as she underwent her treatment. It’s one of the things she shares with other members of Young Survivors. The program takes a holistic approach with its members and offers access to networking, support, education and activities that encourage patients to thrive.
“I feel like people, when they get diagnosed, are afraid, and I guess it’s because fear of the unknown is hard,” she said. “It’s hard to deal with.”
She recommends “just being able to trust the doctor and trust the treatment plan that they prepared is what’s best for you, and trust that process will go smoothly. It’s easier said than done, I know. But that would be my take.”
Saunders has mammograms every six months to check her progress.
She’s still a runner, but said it’s been harder to maintain the pace she did before the diagnosis and COVID-19 coming on the scene. Many races have been canceled, she said.
When she can, she likes to travel and spend time with her friends.
Saunders continues to find support in the same place she found it during her treatment.
“Faith, fitness, friends and my family,” she said. “I have always been an active person, so making time to move every day is an investment in my health. And never underestimate the power of a positive attitude! Proverbs 17:22 says that a merry heart does good like medicine.”
She’s enjoyed getting to know others in the Young Survivors group.
“Cancer survivors are some of the strongest, most resilient women I know,” Saunders said.
To learn more about the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition’s programs go to www.debreastcancer.org/programs/survivor_programs.