Breast Cancer Survivor Marylynn Green
For the Green family, living in Brookings Oregon, an idyllic rural community along the beautiful Southern Oregon Coastline with its harbour and beaches, seemed about as close to heaven as anyone could imagine. Rick Green was a Pastor at a local church, Marylynn loved her job and two of their three daughters were enjoying college. They still had a 14 year-old at home. All was unfolding exactly as it was supposed to. Or so it seemed.
That’s when Marylynn discovered a lump in her left breast. “I wasn’t too concerned, as I was only 46, and it had just been a little over a year since my last mammogram. But I made an appointment with my doctor–just in case.”
After her mammogram, her doctor did an Ultrasound to be sure the lump was not a fluid filled cyst. It wasn’t. He immediately sent Marylynn to see a surgeon, who completed a biopsy. It was cancer. A lumpectomy later showed that Marylynn had Stage 3, HER2 positive, a very aggressive cancer that requires very aggressive treatment, including several months of chemo and radiation five days a week.
The only disadvantage of living in Brookings was that the cancer center where Marylynn got her treatment was 100 miles away in Coos Bay, Oregon. The Greens decided that Rick would stay home with their daughter, and Marylynn would quit her job and drive to the treatment center to stay Monday – Friday. “They had a small room where I could stay and it was very lonely,” she said. “But that was the only way we could manage.”
The Her2 cells were also around her heart and affected her heart. So that’s where the radiation had to be targeted. She could walk but got out of breath easily. The doctors realized they couldn’t give her the full number of rounds of chemo without killing her, so they had to stop.
That was in 2005, about the time a new drug called Herceptin was developed. “It was so new that they didn’t even have a protocol to know how much to give me, so they put me on an audit process for a year. I felt like I had the flu– but not as bad as on chemo.” This treatment, too, affected Marylynn’s heart, so they had to stop, let her regain some strength and start again. Over and over.
During this process, Marylynn found a lump on her other breast. Even with all the treatment she had and was currently on, the lumpectomy showed it was precancerous. She had to have a second mastectomy, but the doctors couldn’t stretch her skin over a breast implant, so they did a trans flap, where they take part of the abdomen muscle to rebuild the breast. The surgery took 10 hours and two surgeons. Unfortunately, the procedure failed and now she had no support for her abdomen. That required another surgery to attach netting where the tissue had been removed. Would it ever end?
Marylynn spent 2 years fighting cancer and the effects of the treatments she had to endure. One can’t help but wonder… How did she do it? What kept her going day after day of pure agony, exhaustion and overwhelming uncertainty?
For Marylynn, the answer is simple: “Strong faith and a lot of prayer. I felt like if He could use me fighting cancer better than without it–so be it. When you trust God that everything has a purpose, you can relax in Him.”
She added that it was still very difficult and that not knowing what’s going to happen was the hardest part. “I knew in my mind that the cancer could come back. But I also knew I couldn’t live in fear. If it came back, I would deal with it. Cancer hasn’t defeated me. I just had my checkup a few weeks ago and I’m still good to go!”
Yes, the Green’s life did take a major turn for the worse when Marylynn got her cancer diagnosis. Her family suffered deeply alongside her. And you can imagine how Marylynn and her husband felt when one of their daughters was later diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian cancer at age 29. They both knew the path she would have to walk.
But out of this seeming double tragedy came an incredible gift and blessing to the world. Her daughter, Tarah Green Warren, fought valiantly, like her Mom. And like her Mom, Tarah’s faith sustained her through her suffering into recovery. Not only did she beat her cancer, Tarah took something so negative and turned it into a positive by founding Tenaciously Teal- a non-profit that in five short years has touched more than 30,000 lives with love, hope and encouragement to enable cancer fighters to fight their best fight!
Marylynn said Tarah took what she learned from both of their journeys and incorporated it into Tenaciously Teal — “like the Brave Shave Party that lets women lose their hair on their terms, not like I did, alone and crying while hanging over the bathtub with my hair falling out in my hands. She also knew we struggled financially to pay gas money for my trips to California every week. That’s why she created the Gas and Grocery Card Program and other means of support for cancer fighters.”
“I am amazed at Tarah’s influence, the way she helps so many people and all God has done through her. I am so very proud of her.”
Post note: Marylynn came back and forth to OKC to help take care of Tarah when she was fighting her battle with cancer and working on her Master’s degree. During that time, the church here where Pastor Green had been a children’s pastor before moving to Oregon just happened to have an opening, so he sent his resume to the Superintendent. When her Dad flew in for Tarah’s graduation, they decided to interview him. Rick was given the Pastorship. They moved back to OKC and Tarah and her family are, once again, living happily in the same town. Oklahoma City may not be as idyllic as Brookings, Oregon, but to the Green family, being together is close enough to heaven on earth.