Throughout most of her pregnancy and in her early days with her daughter, Lillian, Mary Hood could tell something wasn’t right.
Her baby was healthy and thriving but Hood, 30, had a growing lump in her breast that she eventually learned was stage 4 breast cancer.
She’s now six months into her fight against the aggressive form of cancer and receiving a level of community support that she finds surreal.
“I’m an introverted person. I just want to raise my child and do my job and go about my life,” the Thurmont resident said. “It’s all been very difficult for me to accept.”
Hood, who is currently on leave from her job as a fourth grade teacher at Butterfly Ridge Elementary School, first noticed a lump in her breast during a self-exam in July 2018. She brought it up to her obstetrician and they examined it through an ultrasound that October.
Though it was initially believed to be benign, Hood said she could tell it was growing and becoming painful. Her doctors attributed this to changing hormone levels due to her pregnancy, but Hood said she still felt uneasy.
After she gave birth to Lilian in April, Hood said she struggled with breastfeeding and had mastitis — a breast tissue infection causing clogged milk ducts — on three separate occasions. Every lactation specialist she saw told her “you have to get that checked out.”
Hood was ultimately referred to a breast surgeon at her six-week postpartum obstetrician appointment. The breast care center sent her for a biopsy right away.
She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer with invasive ductal carcinoma. Hood said this means the cancer is in the breast ducts rather than the tissue so it spreads more rapidly.
“I was still in a daze, so I’m not sure I heard a thing they explained,” Hood said, pausing to look at her now 6-month-old daughter. “If it weren’t for her, things would certainly be more difficult.”
Hood started chemotherapy within four days of her diagnosis. This was meant to stop the disease from spreading and to reduce the tumor size. She could tell even after her first treatment that the tumor had shrunk and her doctor was very pleased with the results.
Her genetics tests all came back negative and none of her immediate family members have had breast cancer.
“They call this a sporadic case,” Hood said.
Her hormone levels indicate she has a form of the disease that will be more likely to respond to chemotherapy.
Hood plans to have surgery in the coming months depending on the results of her scans. She expects the surgery to be a double mastectomy since her doctors found masses in both breasts.
She also expects to have radiation after surgery.
Emotionally, Hood said she has had “lots of tears” and ups and downs.
“When you think you come to terms with it, it changes. It comes in waves,” she said.
Her motivation is being around for her husband and daughter, as well as the support she has gotten through her parents, siblings and in-laws.
The community has also been key. Hood said fundraisers have been held by a local childcare center, the Maryland International Harvester Collectors Club, the Maryland State Police Department and the Patty Pollatos Fund, through which she has a fundraising page.
“We have been so amazed by everyone’s kindness,” Phyllis Krietz, Hood’s mom, said. “It’s overwhelming in a good way.”
The next fundraiser for Hood is a benefit dinner and gun auction held from 5 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Myersville Fire Hall. Tickets sold out within two weeks, but Hood said they are still accepting donations as more spots could become available. There will be a silent and live auction for which they received donations including fishing and hunting trips, and gift certificates from wineries, breweries and restaurants.
While Hood hopes to put breast cancer behind her, she said the experience has taught her about self advocacy. She said she wishes she had gotten a second opinion, especially since chemotherapy can start during pregnancy without affecting the baby.
She said she’s also learned a lot about accepting help from others even though she considers herself a low-key person who does not enjoy being the center of attention.
“I wish I could put it into words,” she said.