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Mariah Milan is an internationally published wedding photographer based on Maui serving all of Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Destinations Worldwide.

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Family, Portraits

Courage, Love, & Strength | Buda, TX Photographer

Several months ago before I had Cruz, I was on the lookout for something quite rare nowadays. I was looking for an “old town” pediatrician. A place where I could take my kids and the doctor and staff would remember them, welcome them, and where they would be seen throughout their childhood.

We found ourselves at Pediatric Junction, located in a historic home near the railroad tracks in Buda, TX. We met Dr. Karyn Collins and were welcomed into her practice with open arms. Dr. Collins came in to our room wearing a head scarf and met Ryenne and Kai and Peter and I knew that we had found a medical home and not just a doctors office for our kids.

After our first visit, I noticed a sign inside the room mentioning that Dr. Collins had recently overcome Breast Cancer in 2009. And prior to that, her business partner, Dr. Lincoln, had also survived Breast Cancer the year prior. I was completely amazed that these successful women – both of them – had acquired this horrible disease. But thankfully, they are both survivors and a testament to how courage, love, and strength play such a large role in recovery.

I had the honor of meeting Dr. Collin’s entire family the other week for a portrait session. What a wonderful bunch! It is quite obvious that they are a very loving family. I asked several questions for Dr. Collins to answer and she responded with such candor and honesty. I hope her words inspire you all as much as they inspired me.

When were you diagnosed with Breast Cancer?

I received my diagnosis of breast cancer on August 24, 2009.  I know the date so well because it was son’s first day of Kindergarten.  I had the mammogram the February before, waited 6 months to get the recommended follow up mammogram, immediately scheduled the biopsy the radiologist said I needed….I did all these things with complete and utter faith that it would all be negative. I mean how could two doctors in practice together both have breast cancer, come on!  So that Monday morning I called my Ob/Gyn to get the results.  That afternoon, just after my first afternoon patient visit – and it was a newborn to one of my established families – my Ob/Gyn was sitting there holding a piece of paper.  The minute I saw her, I knew she had come to deliver bad news.  Otherwise she would have just called me.

The paper she set down in front of me was the pathology report.  It read “invasive intraductal adenocarcinoma.” My eyes kept looking at the word “invasive.”  My heart pounded, I felt dizzy.  I thought, “I may die from this.’ The first thing I did was ask that someone go get Anna (Dr. Lincoln).  I needed HER.  NO ONE ELSE.  She more than anyone would understand what was happening in my mind in those moments.   I know that when she was summoned to the kitchen, she knew what I had to say…I think she was anticipating those biopsy results more than I!  She looked down at the paper, looked at me, and we hugged and cried.  I remember saying to her “I don’t want to die.  My kids….my kids are so young.”

My head was in a fog as my office manager immediately drove me home.  The kids were pleasantly surprised to see mom home on a Monday afternoon!  What a treat!  But my mind was not there.

My oncologist called me that late afternoon, and his words still echo in my mind as he said  to me “breast cancer is highly, highly curable.”  After all the crying I had done that afternoon, those words made me cry more.  I focused on the word “highly” and he didn’t say it once, he said it twice.  This was my first glimmer of hope in this dreadful day.

How did your kids respond to the news?

I don’t remember how or when I told them.  They saw Anna go through her breast cancer battle, and saw how she is “back to normal.”  The idea of mortality never struck them.  They were actually anticipating and excited about mommy being bald!  Again, Anna’s battle made mine so easy.  We saw how you can still go to work, the grocery store, make dinner, be on-call, even when going through chemo!

How was your daily life affected?

The outpouring of love from my family, my staff at the office, my patients, was nothing short of amazing.  I received prayers, cards, flowers, meals, offers to babysit….from people who knew me well to those who hardly knew me.  It demonstrated to me how much this disease extends into everyone’s life.  While this was my journey, every one of the gifts I received came from someone with their own story, and their own journey.  I was truly blessed.

Because of the strength demonstrated by Anna (Dr. Lincoln) through her battle – which was much more intense, requiring more recovery – I was allowed to be strong through my treatment. Because of her, the idea of not working didn’t cross my mind.  She came to the office, just days post-chemo, feeling puny, but having spirit!  She endured each day without a complaint.  I knew I could do the same.

Being bald and wearing scarves wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  I never thought for a moment to where a wig.  I didn’t want to hide what I was going through.  Occasionally someone would approach me at the store and share a personal story.  I felt special.  I didn’t feel like people felt sorry for me.  I felt like they were inspired.

How did you learn you were Cancer free?

Other than those hours leading up to that conversation with my oncologist, I never felt hopeless.  I didn’t think too far ahead.  I’d have fleeting thoughts that cancer was raging in my body.  Every ache or pain I’d think briefly “has cancer spread here, too?”  I didn’t let those thoughts take me very far.  I knew where was more information to gather before understanding my disease fully.   I needed the lymph node biopsy to solidify the treatment plan.  I found out my lymph node biopsy results as I was being wheeled into my hospital room, still groggy from the anesthesia after my mastectomy.  My husband’s face beaming with excitement, he leaned over, grabbed my hand and said “your lymph nodes are negative, honey!”  Of course my husband didn’t know how to say “lymph node” very well, but I knew what he was saying!  It meant my journey would be easier, less chemo, and I was CURED.

If you could hand Cancer a message, what would it be?

Well, it would be “Thank you.” Thank you for allowing me to see the other side of medicine.  Thank you for allowing me to receive such wonderful gifts of the human spirit.  Thank you for allowing me to join this club of honorable women and men.  Thank you for allowing me to witness Anna’s strength and to have a better understanding of what she went through.  Thank you for allowing me to demonstrate faith and strength to those around me who may have a similar battle one day – just as Anna did for me.

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  1. Nicole Parayno says:

    Such an amazing story!