It’s great when mothers and daughters have things in common—but not in every case.
Consider the case of Paula Breedlove and her daughter, Erica Newman, a mother-daughter duo from East Sparta who are breast cancer survivors.
The disease has stalked their family for four generations.
“It started with my grandmother, who survived it,” Breedlove said. “My mother was 62 when she found out. At the same time, my father had salivary cancer.”
Breedlove said her parents died within six months of each other. Her mother died from ovarian cancer.
Breedlove, a professional songwriter, was diagnosed in 1992. She underwent a mastectomy and six months of chemotherapy.
“It’s much worse when your children have it,” she said.
Newman, who has worked for Aultman Hospice since 2000, was diagnosed in 2001.
“I checked constantly and found a lump,” she said.
Newman said that when she went in for a mammogram, her doctor told her she was too young, but he ordered an ultrasound, which determined that the mass was cancerous.
“I got a great birthday present, a week before my 32nd birthday in March 2001,” she said with a laugh. “Thank God I had my mother there. She went through it. At the same time, I went into shock. I had a son who was 6. I’m grateful I had my parents’ help. I was a single parent.”
Newman said she initially told Breedlove that she didn’t have to accompany her to the doctor for her diagnosis but mom knew best.
“Somehow, I just knew,” Breedlove said.
Newman became part of a clinical trial, during which some lymph nodes were removed, but tested negative. Though the Aultman Tumor Board recommended she undergo a lumpectomy and radiation, Newman opted for a double mastectomy, using the same surgeon who operated on her mother and grandmother.
Unlike her mom, Newman didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy.
“I think it was because they caught it early enough,” she said.
Breedlove confessed that because so many family members had cancer, it was her greatest childhood fear.
“When I was a child, I overheard my aunts and uncles talk about it,” she recalled. “Every night when I went to bed, I prayed that I wouldn’t get it.”
Newman noted that because of their family history, she underwent a BRCA genetic test for cancer, and it returned negative.
“The doctors told me ‘There has be to be some kind of gene we haven’t discovered yet,’ ’’ she said.
She recalled that when she told her then-husband-to-be that she was a breast cancer survivor, he told her about his own mother, who has fought off the disease three times.
Newman said she’s grateful for her family and her co-workers who urged her to go for that first screening.
“I had a really great support team,” she said, adding that she received excellent care at Aultman.
Newman said she wants to use her experience to be an advocate for other women who are diagnosed at a young age.
“There weren’t a lot of survivors in my age group,” she said. “The best advice I can give people after diagnosis is, it’s OK to cry. Laughter is the best medicine, as well.”
“Hopefully, there’s no reason for people to die if they catch it early,” her mother added. “The best thing you can do is tell your story.”
Ironically, Newman’s family’s history saved her life.
“I feel truly that if I hadn’t had members of my family who had it, I don’t know if I would have gotten checked,” she said, before turning to her mother and adding, “Grandma saved your life, and you saved mine.”